About the author: Bob Fisher (GBR, photo herewith), is a longtime friend and widely revered as the dean of the international yachting scribes. For much of this year he has been weighing in, here on SI and in other yachting publications, on the controversy surrounding World Sailing and what many consider to be their dysfunctional, top-down corporate-style governance, as well as the organization's perilous finances. This guest editorial is his latest on the subject, as a world exclusive for SAILING ILLUSTRATED. –TFE
LYMINGTON, GBR (#1110) –When World Sailing gathers for its annual meeting in Sarasota, Florida in early November, it would appear to be facing a crisis, or more strictly, several crises. They are all financial, or have their roots in finance. It all began with the decision to move its headquarters from Southampton to West London, a move costing over a quarter of a million pounds every year!
One has to ask why? Southampton is a coastal city close to Britain’s epi-centre of sailing, the Solent, where everything is cheaper by a marked amount than the West End of London – salaries, rents and transport among them. It has resulted in World Sailing draining its resources to the extent that it is already deep into spending the funds that it received from the 2016 Olympic Games, received in 2017. These amounted to £11,700,000, but we have no idea on what is left after World Sailing has used these funds for a variety of purposes. They are meant to last throughout the four-year period until the next Olympic Games, together with the other sources of income.
In 2017, the initial budget deficit was estimated to be £2,116,242, later revised to £4,252.000, but the actual loss figure turned out to be £5,239,000. Salaries accounted for £1,111,000 of that – the CEO takes home £200,000 and his knowledge of the sport is miniscule – he does not and has not sailed. His sidekick, the Chief Commercial Officer, also a non-sailor, drew slightly less but is no longer with the (for want of a better word) organization – he recently resigned to take up a similar post with a motor racing body.
World Sailing incidentally employs 25 people, of which 14 are in administration and marketing, and 11 in activities dedicated to sail boat racing, of which only one is in training and development. Wouldn’t this be considered as top heavy?
The cost of this in 2017 was £1,611,085 of which £200,000 went to the CEO, making an average salary for the rest at a few pence short of £60,000 each. The cost of employment rose £220,000 between 2016 and 2017 and a 40% increase on the 2016 figure is expected for this year, taking the total employment cost to £2,250,000!
And all the time World Sailing is dabbling with the promotion of Kite Boarding (a totally different sport) into the Olympic Games. Why? You may well ask. Because the CEO sees it a huge source of income, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with sailing, yet the CEO is prepared to sacrifice two “sailing events” in the Olympic Games to Kite boarding. But in doing so he has re-named the sport as “Para Sailing”. Rotting fish by any other name would smell as foul!
World Sailing, previously the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and earlier the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU), was set up to serve the interests of yacht racing sailors, but this object appears to have been lost in recent years, only to be replaced by a business that collects money from its members, sponsors and the IOC, and spends it with a very small percentage invested in its constituents (its members - the sailors). The CEO takes home an amount that is almost equal to the sum of all the member nations’ contributions collectively.
It’s not difficult to see what is wrong or the path to cure the ills. Firstly we do not need an ivory tower to generate income – it doesn’t, so we should rid ourselves of it immediately and return our headquarters to Southampton. The saving would be huge from that alone. Those employed in London might not like the move and resign, providing the opportunity to hire fresh staff at a lower rate – a further saving.
A return to an earlier name (and there is preference for IYRU) would give the organization an indication of its purpose. Currently the title World Sailing is too general (which may suit the current CEO) allowing its main purpose to stray. Above all we need sailors to take charge and not the executive – it spends money thoughtlessly without qualification of its authority. Let us make the changes while there is still some money in the kitty – before it is needlessly wasted.
World Sailing is crippled and it is high time we were put out of the misery that it is causing and before it can do any more harm to our sport. The Annual Meeting in Sarasota is the ideal opportunity for a mega-change and almost certainly it will occur. Believe it or not, the meetings will overrun each and every day, but from it all will emerge an organization with a purpose – to see improvement in the organization of sailboat racing, and for that we should be grateful.
The World Sailing Board of Directors at last year's annual meeting in Mexico. The non-sailing CEO, Andy Hunt (GBR), is far left. President Kim Andersen (DEN), is in the grey suit, center, holding papers. One hears there is growing opposition within the Board to Mr Hunt and his policies. The upcoming annual conference in Sarasota, FL the first week of November could be pivotal for the organization, and sport, as some member national authorities, led by the US Virgin Islands, try to regain control from the small World Sailing Board.