Our discussion is growing up… We received this contribution by australian passionate sailing entrepeneur Robert McMillan. Enjoy the reading…

Sitting here reading a few posts by old mates on Devotiluca some really good stuff there about the future. Its been a long day but here are my views on the Olympics, sailing and how to save some money and improve particiation for World Sailing as we head toward the election of new officers.

Olympic sailing – its future and governance

I’ve really enjoyed reading Paul Hendersons, Luca’s and Jonas’s pieces on this forum and wanted to voice my own opinion on the development of the sport, as well as the evolution of the classes that participate in the Olympic games. My name is of course note as familiar to some as others, but I’ve spent about years trying and failing to get the Olympic games in the Finn and loving 99.7% of it. In recent years I left corporate life to run my little sailing company and in that respect I have experienced teaching a few hundred kids to sail, as well as helping with the development of junior sailing in Australia with the Optimist class.

My observations are there are a number of really big issues that we all need to understand better, to collapse myths in some cases, but to also look hard at the sport and make some bold changes. These include:

• The spiraling costs to compete successfully at the Olympic / elite level of the sport
• The inappropriate balance on effort and resources put into THE key stakeholder in the sport by world sailing and other bodies – the sailor
• The loss of participants in the sport of sailing – particularly in the age groups at the tail end of youth sailing and the consequently much reduced numbers that pursue the sport further and the miniscule numbers that race at elite levels

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, NZL, unbeaten in the last two years in the 49er class. photo Matias Capizzano

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, NZL, unbeaten in the last two years in the 49er class. photo Matias Capizzano

These results are that:

• Sailing is surely under scrutiny as to whether it should be in the Olympics
• At Olympic level, in an attempt to fix the above in haste more mistakes are likely to be made that will not address the key issues within the sport, but it may bedazzle the IOC in giving us a stay in execution
• World sailing and MNAs will continue to act to support the system as it exists with tweaks at Olympic level and over time even fewer people will follow the Olympic dream.

For some, who know me well, they may say where is retaining the Finn class in the games in this piece, in response I would say, all the classes in the games today are great boats, the problems will endure not matter what classes we select – but they could get worse if we continue blindly down the alleys I perceive we are currently travelling.

So what can be done, here are some ideas…

Surely only sports where Olympic success is the pinnacle of achievement should participate in the Olympics.

I would suggest to you that sailing has plenty of money, but as we all know there is a lot of waste generated as a result of the current system. However, if the IOC are genuinely cost conscious, can we first ask that sports which participate as part of the Olympics consider whether an Olympic medal is the pinnacle of achievement in their sport? Over recent weeks most the media has been reporting which golfers or tennis players are NOT attending the games. Imagine the money that could be saved – buy not building golf courses or tennis stadia. Would we disenfranchise thousands of tennis or golf fans and kill the turnstiles? Well why not ask them who won the golf gold medal or tennis gold medal in London? I would suggest that they wont give you the right answer – so I would suggest the audience wont be effected in any material way! Don’t get me started on Soccer (which is some strange U23 concoction!).

I can smell big savings for the IOC or a bigger cake for those that remain.

We can reduce the funds required for Olympic MNA budgets and improve the access to the aspiration of being an Olympian.

Money is a big issue. The costs to campaign, the commitments MNAs have made to there local masters to deliver medals and the extent to which they will go results in ever increasing levels of expenditure and resources. This is not good for the sport – nor is it sustainable. Hence like Formula one why not put some controls in place.

I think we need to create excitement and improve the perceived access to continued participation in sailing. Whilst this is a broad subject, I am restraining the focus in these opinions to Olympic level sailing. To this we need to reduce the costs in pursuing the dream, which in turn may also curtail those self selecting to stop sailing at the end of the Youth sailing journey because they either feel they are “not the one” or just cant make the access requirements of the next level . Furthermore, look at the millions of dollars that has been spent in the 1000s of days teams have been spending RIO over the last four year. Lets also consider the damage that has been done to the dreams of sailors when counties do not send class representatives, despite having qualified as a country.

How could this be done :

a) The IOC and World Sailing develop a protocol that BANS training & racing by all MNA Teams in the waters of the host venue once that venue is announced. This would save MILLIONS of dollars for participating MNAs which could (should) be re-directed to the MNA’s core mission in its host country.
b) World Sailing mandate that participating at the Olympics shall be:
a. For those countries and MNAs that qualify at stipulated country /regional selection regattas
b. All countries that qualify in a class SHALL send a sailor in that class
c. Qualified Countries select athlete(s) at either:
i. A home country based open entry trials regatta over not more than ten-days
ii. A selection trials of up to three open entry Grade 1 regattas held in NO MORE THAN two continents
iii. Any country that elects to select via (i) above and has more than 50 participants in a class SHALL select the first and second place participants as representatives. In all other cases the selected athlete shall be the FIRST place getter.

Growth of sailing at the Olympic level not just medals

World Sailing have done a lot over the last eight years or so that I think has shot Olympic sailing in the foot, both in terms of participation and the integrity of what we actually enjoy. Moving forward we need an effective governing body, that makes wise decisions and can act in the best interests of the sport. Evidence of less than perfect governance includes:

• The ISAF World Cup experience which has destroyed major events and replaced them with minor events that have demonstrated their unsustainability
• Experiments race formats, stadium races in pursuit of an audience and in turn NEGLECTED the needs of the key stakeholder – the sailors
• Allowing MNAs to do what they please in there home countries, even when this damaged the long term future of Olympic level sailing in that country and in my recent experience damaged the belief and hopes of many young sailors – especially female sailors.

Regardless of any class changes at the next Olympics all will be doomed to eventual failure unless the governance of the sport improves. At best Olympic sailing IS the pinnacle of the sport, at worst it is one of the peaks.

Enrique Arathoon (El Salvador) sailing at Hyeres World Cup 2016. ©Pedro Martinez/Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Enrique Arathoon (El Salvador) sailing at Hyeres World Cup 2016.
©Pedro Martinez/Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Make the Sailing World Cup Inclusive
The Sailing World cup needs to be a showcase of talent in whatever countries it is held, however it need to be fiscally sustainable. I would argues the nothing sells sailing like numbers of participants. I recall the Hyeres of old, Medemblik, Kiel with hundreds of boats and competitors enjoying the atmosphere and depth of competition. The events we have seen in new geographies have been a spectacular disaster with below standard turnouts and impossible logistics. Sailors and MNAs voted with their participation – or lack of it!

Stop the audience experiment
Start the sailor stakeholder initiative – as the key stakeholder

Start the digital project
Get away from challenging the integrity of the racing with odd ball classes, stupid formats and stadiums and embrace new technology to get our sport out there.

Get the MNAs under control
Create a scenario where MNA are held to account for their performance with the management of Olympic sailing. Develop a scorecard for of performance for all MNAs. Challenge them to build the pathways, retain and grow Olympic level participation

• Medal performances in a range of Olympic classes events & world cups
• Number of participants in the ISAF rankings Grade 1 or 2 regattas
• % of participating athletes in top 50
• Retention statistics – junior – youth-olympic classes
• Growth /demographic stats
• Participation in key pathway classes and national events
• Independent feedback from sailors with an ISAF ID

Such data and statistics should be used to identify those MNAs who have the formula right, where the success stories are and how we all improve the sailing eco-systems.

Dare I say it if some element of MNA funding was tied to such performance wouldn’t life be interesting.

Rob McMillan