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Paris 2024: When the goal line moves

Published on December 19th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The 2019 World Sailing Conference would be where the Sailing Program for the Paris 2024 Olympics would be finalized, and for that October/November week in Bermuda, it would be where the Finn Class was to reach back and throw a Hail Mary pass as time was expiring.

The elimination of the oldest active Olympic class had one final play, and aside from submitting a strategy to address the shift by the International Olympic Committee toward gender balance, unique events, and universal equipment, the Finn Class also hoped to stoke the emotions of voters.

I was front row at the conference as Hector Simpson, a British bronze medalist at the Finn Youth Worlds, made a powerful presentation, and while the ball ultimately fell to the ground as time expired, his words were felt.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not recording his speech, but happily the Finn Class did capture it and I share it here:

I started sailing on holiday in a 20-year-old bright yellow topper. That’s where I was taught how to sail and for some reason it just clicked. I was good and I caught the bug. I found my talent. Finally, something I was good at.

Local grass roots sailors saw me and encouraged me. I qualified for the regional squad in a Topper, and met some of my most inspiring coaches. They taught us that anything is possible.

They said we all had talent, that was why we were selected, but it was what we did with that talent that counted. There was no reason why if we put the work in, we couldn’t be the next Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy. There was a pathway ahead of us and whatever size we ended up there was a boat we could sail in the Olympics.

The whole group of us; we were inspired. The thought we could one day be like them. In the winter we wouldn’t spend all day on the Xbox or the computer, we would all wake up early break the ice of our boats and go sailing. We’d come back borderline hypothermic, but we did it again and again because we had the dream that we could one day go to the Olympics. Local sailors would give us tips. They supported us.

I progressed through the classes. I was always disadvantaged because of my size. Too big and heavy in the light winds, and then when it was windy, racing was always cancelled because of health and safety concerns.

I always got good results, but I was never the Royal Yachting Association’s superstar. It didn’t matter though. There was a clear pathway to the Olympics. One day I could finally be in a boat that I was the right size for.

I finally transitioned into the Finn. When I finished university, I was able to turn my attention to the class full time. I saw a huge improvement. I was suddenly in contention for medal races, I was racing neck and neck with the best guys in the world and I’d just medaled at the Junior Worlds.

But then I get news of the decision; the Finn won’t be in the Olympics. My Olympic dreams that were starting to look real, were gone. Nowhere for me to go.

By removing a men’s heavyweight dinghy, World Sailing is telling me they don’t want me. People like me; people my height, people who are always going to be too big for another Olympic class – just don’t bother. Give up. The Olympics aren’t meant for us.

What am I meant to tell the tall local Topper sailor at my club who is training every weekend? Don’t bother mate, people like you and me, sailing doesn’t want us. Give up. Do something different, go do another sport. If that isn’t discrimination, then I don’t know what is.

The crazy thing is that we are all becoming bigger and bigger. A sport that has the opportunity to cater for everybody through selection of classes is going to be excluding more and more of us.

Dinghy sailing is the traditional entry point for all other types of sailing and by excluding people like me from the Olympics, we are losing a massive feeder of talent into the wider sailing world. It has also left the wider sailing community in disillusionment.

The guys who once gave me tips when I was younger and supported and encouraged me, now find it hard to recognize the Olympics. They don’t feel the Olympics properly represent them or the sport at the grass roots. The problem is that without these people, there will be no support, no community no pathway, and no sailing as we know it.

Inspiration. It’s not about fancy videos, it’s not about the latest technology. It’s about progression. It’s about knowing that you are on a journey. It’s about knowing that whatever your background, whatever your gender, whatever your size, if you work hard you can become Olympic champion.

While the absence of an Olympic event should not eliminate the desire to enjoy sailing, I do cherish how our sport has this mountain for people to climb. Additionally, due to the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 document, it was quite obvious how the process of selecting the 2024 Event Program presented unique challenges, and change had to occur from the 2016 and 2020 Olympic program.

There have been times in the past when an eliminated boat returned to the Olympics, such as when the Star Class span from 1932 to 2012 was interrupted at Montreal 1976, and it would surprise no one to see the Finn Class return in the future. – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News

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