LONDON – The headline read: “eSailing World Championship launched.” It brought me to a halt particularly when I read on only to find that World Sailing (formerly ISAF and before that IYRU) was in on the act as a partner with “the leading digital sailing platform, Virtual Regatta.” What, I asked myself, was World Sailing doing associating itself with electronic games? It could only be that it detected a source of revenue from digital sailing. But that would come at a price – the hiring of more staff to deal with the day-to-day administration of digital sailing.
But is digital sailing part of World Sailing’s bailiwick? Just because the word ‘Sailing’ or ‘Regatta’ appears in the two bodies’ titles does not give them common ground. World Sailing is the international organization for the physical sport, no less, no more, and it shouldn’t concern itself with computer games for that is what Virtual Regatta is all about. There is more than enough for World Sailing to concentrate upon, although it’s efforts regarding the Olympics and the Paralympics appear to be foundering through lack of first-hand knowledge and a determination to back classes from a single manufacturer.
More staff means more expense, and considerable expense at that – they don’t stint on the salary cheques at World Sailing, and I can’t see that changing. Has Virtual Regatta, the international body governing digital sailing, got the necessary reserves to fund its move into the international authority for the sport of sailing?
World Sailing President Kim Andersen (DEN) is reported as saying: "The sport requires constant inputs and an acquired skillset to manage the relationship between the boat and the forces of nature. The variety in boats, from dinghies, windsurfers to 100 foot boats make(s) it especially rich as a gaming platform." This speaks of a lack of understanding of both the sport we love and the “board game” that World Sailing has acquired.
World Sailing President Kim Andersen (DEN): "The eSailing World Championship will open our sport to a new audience as well as allow sailors to practice their favourite sport everywhere at anytime."
Philippe Guigné (FRA), founder and CEO of Virtual Regatta confusingly said, "Virtual Regatta is honoured to enter the World Sailing family.” He went on, confusingly: “Our international federation is showing the world how sailing is at the edge of innovation.” To whose international federation does he refer, World Sailing or Virtual Regatta? One suspects the former; but it could just as easily be the latter. It is the sort of comment made when World Sailing has sanctioned an eSailing World Championship, to be held next November.
And this is M. Guigné’s comment on the affair: "The eSailing World Championship is probably one of the most ambitious and innovative projects in the world between a federation and a gaming company.“ (Comment: possibly the only one.) “ESports is opening a new audience to our sport as well as allowing sailors to practice their favourite sport everywhere at anytime." In that is the admission that Virtual Regatta is nothing more than a “gaming company”. How sporting!
The only practice of value for sailing is that which is done in a boat in varying strengths of breeze, not looking at a screen while playing an e-game. And just how many of the gamers are likely to become sailors – not very many I’ll wager. [See the derisive reaction by the gaming community to World Sailing's announcement here.]
In order to check that my thoughts were not alone, I sent an enquiry email to former ISAF President, Paul Henderson, and didn’t have to wait long for a stinging reply which began: “What the hell has that got to do with racing Sailboats on water?” It was followed by the cryptic comment: “I thought we were trying to get youth off their asses and stop playing with computers.”
Paul continued in his denigration of the management of the international authority: “Sorry the Brits who now control the World Sailing staff do not know the sharp end from the blunt end and jump on any new gimmick that makes them look important.” His example was borrowed from the website which provided the quick way back to Paddington Station (close to World Sailing’s new headquarters) from the Solent. Oh so important and totally unnecessary had it retained its previous HQ building in Southampton. That move, I was assured, was to ease the journeys of delegates (and then they hold their Annual Conference in Mexico!)
Former IYRU/ISAF President Paul Henderson (CAN): “Sorry the Brits who now control the World Sailing staff do not know the sharp end from the blunt end and jump on any new gimmick that makes them look important....I thought we were trying to get youth off their asses and stop playing with computers.”
How can we return our sport to proper management, the type that concentrates on the active sport of sailing, the type for which the international federation was originally formed? Bring back the best President that federation has ever known; give him carte blanche; and in less than a year sanity will have been restored. Sadly, I believe he might turn down the offer.
["The Last Post" is a regular Sailing Illustrated contributor, a consummate and veteran journalist of considerable repute – so much so that he, like The Fifth Beatle, has chosen to file under this clever nom de plume in the best traditions of American journalism dating back at least as far as that revolutionary-era writer Silence Dogood, a.k.a. Benjamin Franklin. This is his fourth submission since SI began in May 2017. What's your reaction to the foregoing piece by The Last Post? Let us know in the comments below, or via an e-letter to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. –TFE]