SAN FRANCISCO (#999) – Indeed, in the hour or so your Ed. was writing this post, another 500 people signed the petition. I had to change the headline from 4,500 to "over 5,000." So what's this all about? Here's the Executive Summary....
[UPDATE at 0715 PDT Friday: Overnight another 2,500 have signed – the number is now over 7,500. –TFE]
For 2024 World Sailing are trying to change eight of the ten classes that sailed in Rio 2016. They say that five of the classes will remain unchanged – not true. Nacra 17 has already been changed to a foiler for 2020, and with many problems and at much greater expense to compete. What WS is not telling you is that they are already negotiating to change the rigs on both the Laser and Laser Radial, making them, in effect, new classes, too, and no doubt more expensive for countries and athletes. If WS continues down the 2024 path they have laid out, only the 49er and 49er FX will be the same classes as 2016 Rio. Yeah, maybe the rich nations (and athletes) can afford all that change, but not many others. The CEO of World Sailing is a non-sailor, and it is beginning to show, and not well. It is time for both USSA and WS to come to their senses and stop trying to make sailing into an extreme television sport. Finally, Kiting is not Sailing. Sailing has sails on masts. Kiting has kites on the end of long strings. Kiting should be in the Olympics but with its own federation and medals – and probably in both the summer and winter (snow-kites) Olympics, but not taking away two of Sailing's only ten medals.
Now, here's the rest of the full, continuing saga.
This month World Sailing will meet in London to vote on the Olympic Sailing events for 2024. When Sailing Illustrated broke the news last December that WS was considering a radical change of the events, little did we know just how radical. Indeed, we reported in February that WS was considering "an even more radical shake-up than previously reported" with the elimination of the venerable Finn and 470 classes.
Then US SAILING got into the act with a radical submission of its own, proposing that three of the ten Olympic events be a Kiting triathlon, team racing, and an offshore event. We published their submission here.
In response to growing criticism from around the world, earlier this week World Sailing issued a long, rambling four-page letter over the signature of President Kim Andersen (DEN) trying to justify the coming change, without specifying exactly what the change is that they are pushing.
Today, US SAILING issued an open letter addressed to "U.S. sailors", over the signatures of President Bruce Burton and CEO Jack Gierhart, purporting to explain their radical submission which had been sent to World Sailing with little fanfare let alone prior consultation with American clubs, classes and sailors. Amazingly, nowhere does this latest letter ask for the views of American clubs, classes and sailors, only, "Stay tuned, and again, thank you for your time and attention." Talk about top-down. How that organization has changed in the past decade!
US SAILING tries to explain their even more radical proposal (than anything WS was considering) by saying, "The International Olympic Committee has also requested certain changes be made in Olympic sailing in general." Yet, WS President Kim Andersen says in his open letter of two days ago, "In debates around the sailing world, it has been mentioned that the IOC is demanding change. I must say that this is not the case."
So guys, which is it? And why the rush for radical, expensive reform with virtually no consultation with those most affected – Olympic sailors?
One hears, via numerous reports from senior World Sailing delegates many of whom are longtime friends, that the WS leadership wants is a wholesale makeover of Olympic Sailing for various reasons, but bottom line, follow the money.
In short, they want to change, by 2024, fully eight of the ten Olympic Sailing classes that raced in Rio 2016. To wit, the classes that raced in Rio:
Nacra 17 (non-foiler)
What by all accounts the WS leadership are pushing for 2024:
Kiting, format TBD (different venue than Sailing)
Windsurfer (new class TBD, not RSX)
Laser Radial (with a new rig)
Kiting, format TBD (different venue than Sailing)
Windsurfer (new class TBD, not RSX)
Laser (with a new rig)
Mixed (one male, one female)
Nacra 17 (foiler, being introduced in 2020)
Beneteau Figaro 3 (offshore double-handed overnight "marathon")
Video of the foil-assisted Beneteau Figaro 3, featuring star-shaped foils, courtesy of Beneteau Yachts (FRA).
By 2024, everything would be new except the 49er (men) and 49er FX (women). Gone would be the widely-distributed, robust, popular, inexpensive Finn and 470 classes. With elimination of the Finn, there would be no class suitable for heavy-weight sailors. Note, too, that both the Finn and 470 classes are run by sailors for sailors. World Sailing leadership makes no bones about wanting sole-source, monopoly classes over which they can assert virtual control – politically and financially.
Finally, some common sense has been injected into this controversy. Six of the world's top Olympic Sailors (as opposed to "riders", which is what Kiting competitors call themselves), penned an open letter that is running in the May issue of Seahorse Magazine. We re-print it here in full:
Sailing Clubs: Time is Short
You may not be aware that the Executive Committee of World Sailing intend to bring major changes to the Paris Olympics of 2024. It is paramount that those who are in a position to defend our sport and its character, starting at club level, understand the message that we are trying to convey as we believe for many reasons that the very future of our sport is being put at risk. Some of us are sailors who became Olympians because of yacht clubs who embraced us when we were very young and supported our dreams. Some of us even went on to make sailing into a career.
But it is too easy for administrators and those who control sailing to become removed from the sport they have been appointed to help to manage.
Fundamentally our sport is and always has been based upon three fundamental pillars: sailors, clubs and classes. Sailing is facing a critical period in our long involvement in the Olympic Games and it is dangerous to think that 'this does not matter to me'. Well, it does.
World Sailing's far-reaching proposal moves the focus from accessible classes like the Laser Radial to a technology-driven format demanding wholesale replacement of expensively acquired boats and equipment. It is now possible that up to eight of the 10 current Olympic sailing disciplines will be dropped for Paris 2024 - crushing the hopes of countless young sailors who are dreaming of some day representing their club and country and becoming Olympians themselves. And of course the less well-funded the sailor - and the sailing nation - the more they will be hurt.
What is virtually a complete change in classes will not only wipe out the enormous investments made year after year by those chasing the Olympic dream, it will take a heavy toll on the sailing clubs that support the sport. Competitive sailing is based on the clubs, where young sailors start sailing in starter dinghies, often after members have helped them take their first step by learning to swim. The water is our arena.
For everyone involved in club sailing the issue that needs your immediate attention is that the Olympic format under consideration by World Sailing sees the Finn, 470 Men and Women, Windsurfer Men and Women, Laser and Laser Radial all possibly dropped for the 2024 Olympic Regatta. Only the 49er and 49erFX will remain. The range of sailor weights and body sizes with a place in Olympic sailing will reduce even further.
Instead World Sailing propose a wholesale switch of emphasis to foiling and foiling equipment, as has already happened to the Nacra 17 fleet - with the substantial increase in cost and complexity (certainly the foiling Nacra is spectacular... but in some conditions it is slower than its non-foiling predecessor).
The thrust is to use Olympic Sailing as a vehicle to introduce kitesurfing, a subjectively scored, wave-jumping, foiling, off-the-beach event held not at the Olympic Sailing venue but at a new Olympic Surfing venue.
It is our firm opinion that kitesurfing has earned its right to be called a sport of its own, and should fly on its own merits and not use sailing to promote its desire to be included in the Olympic Games - and its commercial interests. The reality is that one does not need a sailing club to go KiteSurfing - 'riders' just have to pack their gear and find a beach. There are also menacing issues of ongoing anti-trust lawsuits and disputes about who really owns the commercial equipment that will be used and the patents that will control supply.
The proponents of these wholesale changes to what we know as 'Olympic sailing' argue that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demand such a switch within their Olympic Agenda 2020. Yet the IOC themselves deny any such arbitrary decrees - stating only that they remain in 'ongoing negotiations' with each of the 35 Olympic Sport Federations.
For good reason a major issue today is gender equality. But sailing has always promoted women - this was reconfirmed only this month by the IOC's latest competitor audit. Olympic sailing already boasts a 45 per cent women's participation rate - the average across all current Olympic sports.
Finally, these crucial issues are intended to be decided by means of an 'electronic vote'. How removed from the grassroots of sailing is a remote electronic vote? No face-to-face debate between representatives of Member National Authorities, instead a remote process executed by the click of a mouse... The result could be an Olympic line-up made up entirely of fee-paying manufacturer classes.
The clubs - your sailing club - are the foundation of competitive sailing. You are also the power behind your Member National Authority. They are elected by you and they are only there to represent your views.
If you are against such hurried major changes to this sport then we urge you to back this demand to the IOC and World Sailing: 'That the selection of sailing equipment and events for Paris 2024 be frozen by the IOC until all of the issues involved are openly, democratically and transparently scrutinised focusing in particular on the effects that dramatic changes of equipment have on the sailors who dream to be Olympians and on the sailing clubs who have nurtured their dreams.'
If you agree with our concerns please contact your own National Federation, tell your Yacht Club and Class Association to do the same and lobby hard to ensure it does not support the destructive proposals to be put forward by the World Sailing Executive Committee later this month.
Time is short. The future of our sport rests with each of you.
A group of concerned sailors,
Victor Kovalenko (Coach, RUS/AUS)
Inspired by that letter, yesterday Ben Nicholls (GBR) put a petition up on Change.org imploring the World Sailing executive board to "Save Our Sport." I might have said, "SOS - Save Olympic Sailing." Regardless, in the first 24 hours the petition garnered more than 3,000 supporters, and as your Ed. finishes this article, it's up over 5,000 with several more adding their names every minute. The comments accompanying the endorsers are an interesting cross-section of the compelling reasons to leave the classes as is, or largely so, at least until a thorough review with global input from sailors can be conducted. As Mr Nicholls said, "Let's hope World Sailing Executive are listening."
Congrats to the courageous sailors who wrote the foregoing letter, to Seahorse for running it, and to Mr Nicholls for putting up the Change.org petition. If you are inclined to support the petition, please click here.
To repeat: Kiting is not Sailing. Put Kiting in the Olympics under their own federation, with their own medals. Don't take away Sailing medals for Kiting. Kiting came into WS with the promise they would not go into the Olympics (under Sailing) unless Sailing was granted additional medals.
Windsurfing, which IS Sailing (they have a mast and sail instead of a kite attached at end of strings), came into the Olympics in 1984 as both a demo event (Windsurfer) and medal event (Windglider), when Sailing (then Yacht Racing) was given two additional medals. I know, I was there as US SAILING (then USYRU) Executive Director, and head of the USA delegation to the IYRU.
As a young sailing friend, Justin Palm (USA), said in a Facebook comment yesterday, "To put it simply, it looks like World Sailing is trying to turn Olympic Sailing into the Extreme Games at the expense of sailors, clubs and classes as we know them today." Amen.
World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt, giving a keynote on "sustainability" at last year's AGM. Mr Hunt was CEO of the British Olympic Association for four years, a role that ended unceremoniously in 2012. He is a non-sailor hired by World Sailing's previous president, Carlo Croce (ITA), who also served for only one term before being defeated for re-election by Kim Andersen (DEN) in 2016.