Betting on the future of Olympic Sailing

Published on October 30th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Once you observe the Olympic Games to be this immensely prominent sporting occasion, and that invited Sports are privileged to be on such a stage, yet it is like no other competition for any of these Sports, then you begin to understand what is driving discussion at the 2019 World Sailing Annual Conference in Bermuda.

The Olympics are a presentation as much as a competition, and each Sport is hungry to be a contributor in building that audience while eager to seek benefit from the stage. Participating in the Olympics is an immense opportunity for each Sport, and it is incumbent on the sporting federations to leverage their seat at the party.

It was one of my takeaways from attending the Rio 2016 Olympic Games that Sailing was missing this opportunity with ten events of significant similarity. Athlete crossover among the events had increased, and it all looked the same from a distance. As I said at the time, it was as if the athletes were diving off the same 10 metre platform, but wearing different bathing suits.

While it was the decision by World Sailing to keep the same event program for Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as a courtesy to the athletes and nations to protect their investment, change is ahead for Paris 2024 and those changes are taking shape in Bermuda.

The International Olympic Committee has motivated all Sports to review their event program to promote and grow universality in all disciplines and increase female participation with gender equal medals and athletes. But also, for the events of each Sport to find their audience, which for Sailing has led to discussions for a possible kiting relay race, a slalom windsurf format, and an offshore distance course.

The ten events for 2020 – singlehanded and doublehanded dinghies, doublehanded catamaran, and windsurfers – will offer a supreme test for the athletes, providing the classic windward-leeward course to test tactics and speed for off the beach boats and boards, but the format is hardly a full reflection of the boating public. Change will shake that up.

World Sailing is betting on how increasing the uniqueness of their events, by better showcasing the ever-widening girth in sailing, will heighten the position the Sport in this unique competition, not only increasing interest in Olympic Sailing, but for all forms of sailing. This shift could be a massive victory for the sport. Standing by for the results…

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