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Paris 2024: Grumblings from the gallery

Published on August 3rd, 2020

Since the first Olympic Games in 1896, there have been 49 classes of boats used through 31 editions of this summer quadrennial competition. Change occurs for various reasons, and while it can be disruptive to sailors and nations, history shows how it is rare for the same program of equipment, as boats are called, to be used in consecutive games.

One of those rare instances will see Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 with the same program, but an initiative by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), released in December 2014 called Olympic Agenda 2020, would change that for Paris 2024.

Within the report, 40 detailed recommendations would direct all Olympic sports in how their competitions are to be presented, and World Sailing had to face some difficult decisions for the 10 events to meet the new standards of gender balance, universality in equipment, and event uniqueness.

When the smoke cleared, gone for Paris was the Men’s and Women’s Two Person Dinghy, replaced by the Mixed Two Person Dinghy. Gone was the old school RS:X windsurfer, replaced by the foiling iQFOIL Class. Gone was the Finn. New would be the Mixed Kite and Mixed Two Person Keelboat Offshore events.

Nearly two years following the decision, with the IOC anticipated to confirm the 2024 Sailing events by December 2020, there remains an effort to dislodge the Paris 2024 program. Addressing this effort is new World Sailing CEO David Graham:

(July 31, 2020) – In the World Sailing Board Meeting this month, the Board discussed draft correspondence from an MNA (Member National Authority) in circulation about Olympic Events and Equipment. The letter is asking other MNAs to send a template letter to the IOC in an attempt to overrule a democratic decision made by a majority of MNAs.

The conclusion of the discussion was a unanimous decision to task myself to write to all MNAs to remind them of World Sailing’s democratic process set out in our Constitution for deciding Olympic Events and Equipment.

The World Sailing Council and the MNAs at the 2018 Annual General Meeting in Sarasota, Florida decided on the Paris 2024 slate of Events and Equipment in accordance with the Regulations for the process. The process was thorough, had taken a number of years and was finally settled in November 2018. A request to reconsider in November 2019 was rejected by Council.

World Sailing are in regular communication with the IOC about the new slate, as we are well into the preparation phase for Paris 2024. I am sure you are aware that all Olympic sports will be under pressure to reduce athlete allocation again; as of now, we are seen in extremely good light with the IOC and the conversations are enormously positive; they are particularly appreciative that we have responded to their direction, in that we will have gender equality in our Olympic Events and athletes in Paris 2024.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the delay to the 2020 Olympic Games have created many challenges for everyone. It is appropriate for World Sailing to consider these challenges across the sport including in the context of the new events for 2024, and ensure the challenges can be overcome. If certain MNAs feel that the impact of the COVID-19 situation means we should relook at past decisions, there is also a clear process for this within our current structure.

Taking this out of the sailing community and going directly to the IOC in an attempt to bypass and ignore the considered and democratic decision made by World Sailing Council and the MNAs was deemed by the Board as:

a) Disrespectful to the Council and our MNAs,
b) A breach of Article 6 of the Constitution which binds us and requires all Members to respect the Federation’s decisions, and
c) Potentially very damaging to our sport, at a time when our sailing family need to be pulling together.

The World Sailing Strategy is clearly focused on the development of our sport globally, gender equality, and the diversity of sailing, to promote our sport in general and in particular to attract youth. The Board considers [and urges wider evaluation] on what can be done to streamline and reduce cost in our sport especially in the next quad.

However, we also need to be careful that we do not react to very difficult circumstances in a way that could do unnecessary long-term damage to the reputation of our sport to our stakeholders. We need a strong and diverse range of events that truly represents our sport as a whole, consolidating and building a strong foundation for growth and engagement which in turn will increase appeal.

It is very unlikely to have 100% agreement on every decision, but it is very powerful for the future wellbeing of our sport if we pull together once a decision is made as a result of our democratic process. The Board unanimously urges all Members to follow our Constitution and respect our internal democratic processes.

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