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2024 Olympics: The debate over "keelboat offshore"continues; "Open letter to delegate

SARASOTA, FL (#1124) – On Friday the World Sailing Council voted to replace the single-handed Finn Class with a "mixed-gender two-person keelboat offshore" event for the 2024 Olympics. 29 Council members voted in favor, nine against, with two abstentions.

Earlier this week US Sailing President Cory Sertl (USA, Rochester, NY) emailed your Ed. to say that USSA continues to support the "keelboat offshore" event, so presumably the U.S. delegates voted in favor. However, these days the voting is electronic, and secret, so it is not known for sure how anyone voted. In former, more transparent times, when a vote was called at World Sailing (then ISAF née IYRU) delegates put their hands in the air for all to see.

A proposal for such a keelboat offshore event had been rejected by the Council at World Sailing's midyear meeting at London in May. However, the proposal was resurrected in a surprise, last-minute submission put forward by the nine-member World Sailing Board, led by President Kim Andersen (DEN) and the non-sailing CEO Andy Hunt (GBR), on the eve of the organization's annual conference being held this year in Sarasota.

The nine-member World Sailing Board of Directors with CEO Andy Hunt (GBR, far left) in a file photo courtesy of World Sailing. Board members from left to right: Quanhai Li (CHN), Scott Perry (URU), Nadine Stegenwalner (GER), Ana Sanchez (ESP), Andy Andersen (DEN, President), Gary Jobson (USA), Yann Rocherieux (FRA), Jan Dawson (NZL), Torben Grael (BRA).

Ng Ser Miang (SIN) is a Singaporean athlete, successful entrepreneur and diplomat (Wikipedia). A lifelong racing sailor and Snipe Class champion, he has been president of the Singaporean Yachting Association, Chairman of the Singapore Olympic Council, and a Vice President of World Sailing (then ISAF), Ambassador to Hungary and now Norway. Most importantly, currently he is the senior Vice President of the IOC – the International Olympic Committee, "owner" and organizer of the Olympic Games.

Earlier this week, after Mr Ng learned that the WS Board had resurrected the "keelboat offshore" proposal, he posted this astonishingly blunt piece to his personal Facebook page:

During the midyear meeting in May this year, the World Sailing Council received more than 60 submissions on the 2024 Olympic events, 13 of them were debated on and after prolong process and 7 rounds of voting it took a decision. Now, barely 5 months later the World Sailing Board decided that one of the event cannot work and is proposing to change that. What sort of process is this? lack of leadership? cherry picking? commercial interests manipulation?

A mixed two person keelboat offshore event that will go on for 48 hours? a liberal interpretation of Regulation 23? the reasons given in this submission paper are pretty strange.

1) That the mixed one person dinghy event is not workable, then why was it put forward in the midyear meeting and approved after due process?

2) keelboat has a long history in the Olympic programme, but not offshore!!

3) 50% of sailors in the world compete in offshore keelboats ?! fake data?! 49 countries in the world are landlocked, many non landlock countries do not have offshore racing. the huge costs and logistic of offshore racing is not comparable to dinghy racing. the maritime traffic in many parts of the world do not make offshore racing easy.

4) the reasonable costs of supplied equipment is pretty humorous. will the boat manufacturing be prepared to supply free keelboats for participating MNAs to train and qualified their sailors???

5) my understanding from broadcasters is that the event will be complex and expensive to cover. I do not think it is necessary to go into other "reasons" in the paper. In a note dated 15 Oct sent by Andy Hunt, CEO of World Sailing, he warned of expensive litigations should anyone try to change the Nov decision on Olympic equipment. I find this very strange as in the same breath, the Board is trying to change decision of the Council made in May?!

Further, even if the Board will manage to make the Council change its May decision, how will the Council decide on which offshore keelboat at this Annual Meeting? unless someone has already decide which keelboat will be designated? if this is not the case and like all Olympic equipment that has to be well tested and universally accepted then the decision has to be deferred. should the same not apply to all other untested equipment proposed? T

The Olympic Games is not a testing ground for new experiment. The complexity of our sport cannot be an excuse for not following principles and protecting the integrity of our sport and most importantly our sailors. In most of the Olympic IFs, the National Federations form the supreme body of their sport. Sailing is no different, classes and equipment manufacturers are important partners, but they are not National Federations. It is time for the MNAs to be involved and to take charge.

Many believe Mr Ng would not have posted this proverbial shot across the World Sailing bow without the blessing of IOC President Thomas Bach (GER). Regardless, President Andersen and CEO Hunt were not deterred, and pushed through the Board's submission – which clearly flies in the face of Ng Ser Miang's admonition – and setting up a potential future fight with the IOC.

As if that were not enough to give the WS leadership pause, on Wednesday this week the EU served formal notice on World Sailing that they (WS) are under investigation by the EU's Competition Commission for alleged anti-trust, monopolistic policies and practices – which can be boiled down to the acronym SMOD, for "single manufacturer one design." We also broke that story here on Sailing Illustrated Wednesday evening.

On Friday the Council also approved, in general, the type of "keelboat offshore" to be used for such an event. Quoting from the WS press release following the meeting, it is to be "A displacement monohull (non-foiling) with a shorthanded deck layout. The boat will be between 6-10 metres in hull length, able to perform in 4 to 40 knots with a proper sail inventory for all conditions and be a sloop rig with a spinnaker."

Yesterday, Sailing Illustrated learned from two of our normally reliable sources that the yacht to be used may have already been selected by World Sailing leadership to be the L30 One-Design. We broke that news in a story here on SI yesterday morning.

The L30 is also a SMOD, which appears to put this "keelboat offshore" at odds not only with the IOC but now also the EU.

The 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris, with the sailing events held in the Med off Marseille. The French Sailing Federation (FFV) are at the forefront of short-handed offshore racing. To be sure, they are enthusiastic about having a "keelboat offshore" in the 2024 Games, both to showcase their sailors and bring what they think will be much media and public attention from sailors and non-sailors alike. Yesterday after the Council's vote, FFV President Nicolas Hénard was interviewed by our Facebook friend and esteemed freelance journalist/author Chris Museler (USA)....

As the articulate and properly cautious FFV President said, to have effect yesterday's Council decision must be ratified on Sunday at the AGM – Annual General Meeting – where each MNA (Member National Authority, of which there are some 140) is entitled to one vote. US Sailing has the same number of votes as, say, the Cuban Sailing Federation – one. So, at least for now, it will be up to nation's large and small to determine the outcome.

This morning, the Finn Class issued this "Open Letter to Delegates at the World Sailing AGM - a plea from the Finn Class" with the accompanying photos (courtesy of Robert Deaves)....

The Finn class has been part of the Olympics since 1952. It is an undeniable and integral part of the history and culture of the Games and has created more stars of the sailing world than any other class.

It is not only the last bastion of the ‘great’ Olympic classes but also one of the most popular, refined and challenging dinghy classes in the world. It is immediately attractive because it reminds everyone of the countess heroes who have passed through the class and won medals at the Olympics.

Following Friday’s Council meeting, the Finn class is very disappointed by the choices made and the way Submission 37 was introduced and seemingly steamrolled through. The class not only feels very dismayed by the whole process over the last year, but also that the Olympic classes decisions are moving in a counter-productive direction.

This reaction has been shared by thousands of Finn sailors and shocked sailing supporters across the world since Friday's decision. In decisions of this nature, it is never going to please everyone, but this has caused huge concern across the sailing world.

Dinghy sailing has been the mainstay of the Olympic regatta since the 1980s, after most keelboats were gradually dropped because of the huge expense involved. In 2012 and 2016 there were seven dinghy classes. In Paris 2024, under the current proposed slate, there will be just five dinghy classes – half the total slate. Aside from the massive change and expense for sailors and MNAs to invest in new equipment, the slate is moving away from the core of the sport. In the 2018 Youth Olympic Games there were no dinghy classes. The pathway for a developing grassroots dinghy sailor is getting narrower and narrower.

The pinnacle that so many great small boat sailors have aspired to for generations, the Finn, may no longer be an option, so sailors over 85 kg have no pathway to the Olympics and that would be a huge loss to the sport.

To say a Finn sailor should sail a keelboat, or even switch sport to kite surfing is at best, misguided. Only a very few will be selected or have support for the vastly expensive keelboat programme. Most will be overlooked, as nations will choose their offshore heroes in preference.

Whatever way you look at it, the keelboat will be hugely expensive; potentially as much cost to an MNA as all the other classes put together and will limit participation to a very select few sailors and nations. The dreams and hopes of hundreds of young Finn sailors across the world will be dashed.

So this is an impassioned plea from Finn sailors to save the Finn, and probably the 470 as well, as the only measurement-controlled classes left in the Olympic programme.

At the AGM on Sunday, MNA delegates will have a choice to sign off the Council recommended slate of events and change the face of Olympic sailing forever, or it can ask whether this is actually the best decision for the sport?

While the Finn Class acknowledges that the Mixed One-Person was a step into the unknown, so is the Mixed Kite, and even more so is the Mixed Keelboat.

With the Mixed Keelboat, the costs are unknown, the logistical, media production and security problems are unknown and the overall viability is unknown. The sheer cost of mounting a campaign is so far beyond most of the smaller nations that it immediately limits participation and becomes a rich-man’s game – the same reason that many of the keelboats were dropped in the past. Do we not learn from the past?

Further, along with the Lasers going to sea trials, equipment for seven classes will only be decided by November 2019, which is only two and a half years before the first Paris 2024 Olympic trials. MNAs should delay the decision for 2028 and use the little time ahead to test all the new chosen equipment.

In addition, at a time when World Sailing has not completed its own anti-trust review programme and is under investigation by the European Commission for possible anti-trust infringements, would it not be prudent to delay further decisions until that review is completed?

There is another choice open to delegates at the AGM – a vote for no change at the present time to keep the 2020 Olympic sailing events for 2024. We would urge all delegates to seriously consider whether losing the Finn is in the best interests of the sport.

Please think of the sailors.


So the beat goes on. Stay tuned to Sailing Illustrated for the latest, including the possibility of another special "Come Within Hail" live webcast yet today and/or tomorrow over on our SI Facebook page.

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