Disability Sports Ambassador

Tuesday 26th July, 2016

“We will do whatever we can to get sailing reinstated into the Paralympics”, that is the assurance given to disabled sailors worldwide by Andy Hunt, CEO of World sailing.

In an meeting I had last week with the heads of World Sailing [WS] and Para World Sailing [PWS], disabled sailors worldwide seeking reinstatement of sailing into the 2024 Paralympic Games can take comfort from the reassurances and major new plans now on the table including:

  • A major disabled sailing event in Tokyo 2020
  • WS to do “whatever it takes” for reinstatement
  • Para World Sailing Committee elections in November 2016, nominations requested from MNA’s
  • A plea to MNA’s around the world to continue their support of disabled sailing programmes post Rio
  • Reinstatement part of WS President, Carlo Croce’s, Manifesto

With the announcement by IPC in January 2015 that sailing would not be included in the 2020 Paralympic games, there has been a great deal of concern and uncertainty about the future of elite disabled sailing.

As a member of the #Reinstate Facebook group and, most importantly, a passionate sailor myself, I wrote recently to WS seeking answers to a number of questions about the future.  In a subsequent meeting held on Friday 22nd July between myself, Andy Hunt, CEO of WS, Massimo Dighe, recently appointed Para World Sailing Manager and Alastair Fox, Head of Events at WS, it was an opportunity to get answers to some of those questions being asked by the disabled sailing community.

My first question related to the immediate state of affairs. With IPC making their final decision in March 2018 on which sports are to be included in the 2024 Paralympic Games, what were the non-negotiable hoops that WS had to jump through over the next 20 months to ensure reinstatement?

IPC cited three reasons for de-selection;

  • Governance
  • Financial
  • Participation

Alastair explained that WS are confident, with Para World Sailing [ex-IFDS] becoming a fully constituted Committee of WS as from November 2015 and therefore having the financial backing of the sports International Governing Body, both governance and financial concerns will have been dealt with comprehensively to the satisfaction of IPC.

This of course leaves the biggest hurdle still to overcome, participation. Massimo explained that World Sailing want to exceed the IPC minimum criteria of 32 countries regularly competing in Paralympic sailing and WS will build and improve on the Paralympic Development Programme, first published in 2015 []. The £100,000 budget for 2015 has been repeated in 2016 with further funding to be identified in 2017.

Whilst the 2015 Sailing World Cup in Melbourne saw 31 countries compete in the 2.4 metre class, parachuting in sailors from nations with no history of disabled sailing to increase numbers is not a long-term solution to the problem.  Building a sustainable national development framework with the support of a strong MNA with regional and national competition is the basis upon which to build those foundations and IPC want to see this.  WS are working with a number of emerging nations and Sweden, Estonia, Poland, Argentina and Hong Kong are currently farthest along the development path.

Andy Hunt explained that WS are also working hard to build strong relations with the IPC.

A lot has been spoken recently about equipment selection following contentious equipment evaluation selection trials held earlier this year in Medemblik.  Massimo explained that one of the barriers to growth of the sport in emerging nations has been the choice of equipment; currently the 3 person keelboat (Sonar), 2 person keelboat (SKUD) and single-person keelboat (2.4 Norlin OD). The Equipment Selection committee focused on the following criteria;

  • Improve logistics: in other words, boats that could fit into containers for easy shipping around the world
  • Exciting: the boats themselves must be exciting to sail and exciting to watch
  • Well distributed: cost a major factor

In his Manifesto published last week, WS President Carlo Croce has already said “WS are reducing the number of events from 3 to 2 and the focus being on one and two-person events”. That would suggest the Sonar will be a casualty of the changes with all eyes now on which classes will be selected for the one and two-person craft. However, it should be noted these are Croce’s personal thoughts and they are not an official decision or policy of WS. The formal decision will be taken at the November 2016 WS Conference when the WS Equipment Committee will announce the formal recommendation of the Para World Sailing Committee which boats are to be selected from a shortlist of Wind-rider, Weta, Venture Keel, Hansa Liberty and Hansa 303.

At that same conference there will also be elections to appoint new members to the PWS Committee.  Andy Hunt says that MNA’s are to be encouraged to nominate potential candidates. On a personal note, I am hoping many elite sailors put their names forward as candidates to their MNA’s so the PWS Committee is truly representative.

One of the strongest messages from the meeting was for MNA’s to continue their support of disabled sailing after Rio. Although there will be a loss of funding to many, Andy & Massimo were at pains to stress the importance of maintaining an elite sailing programme both nationally and internationally.

To underline this, Tokyo have made a proposal to host a Para World Sailing Championship in 2020. Whilst the Executive of WS are in support of the proposal and will do everything possible to sail the PWS World Championships in Tokyo, official approval will need approval from the PWS AGM in Barcelona in November 2016.  If approved, this will be an opportunity to showcase the sport during an Olympic year in the host nation. Whether it will be held before or after the Paralympic Games would need to be agreed.

Furthermore, to ensure continued elite level competition post-Rio, WS will announce three World Cup events per year for the next four years to include Para World Sailing events.  The format is not yet agreed but there is a determination to include Paralympic classes as part of all WS World Cup events.

Finally, we discussed the matter of communications between WS, PWS and the sailors. Alastair acknowledged that it was not always easy to get right and there had been significant changes of personnel in recent months and, with limited resources, it was not always possible to react timely to social media. With Massimo in place, communications are set to improve.

It is now 20 years since I watched Andy Cassell, Kevin Curtis and Tony Downs sail their Sonar into gold medal position on a searingly hot lake Lanier in Atlanta for Team GB, the first time the sport of sailing had been an event in the Paralympics. It was an emotional moment, not just to see my friends win a gold medal, but to see a dream come to fruition, sailing had become a Paralympic event. Credit has to go to the then IFDS for all of their hard work in making that happen. We all felt the pain of de-selection in January 2015 and it is not a surprise emotions ran high. Now our sights must be set on reinstatement.

As a sport, disabled sailing is not easily compared to other disability sports, and it is to our detriment that our selection as a Paralympic event is judged by IPC on criteria used for other sports. We are one of only a handful of sports which is fully integrated with able-bodied participants. We use a multitude of different equipment [classes of boats] and cater for a wide-range of disabilities all of whom can compete against each other, unlike other Paralympic sports which might be disability specific, using only a single set of equipment or practiced only by disabled people.

My thanks to Andy, Massimo and Alastair for meeting with me, sharing the challenges they face and being prepared to answer my questions face to face.  There is a real sense of understanding what needs to be done to get sailing reinstated and a real sense of commitment and determination to do whatever it takes. A new Executive team with fresh ideas, a green light from above and a budget will hopefully be enough to achieve what we all want, #reinstate.

2 Comments have been made

Antonio F. Sanpere says:

The US Virgin Idlands Paralympic Sailing team has been competing in both Sonars abd 2.4 fir the last 3 years. We went to Halifax, Neeport, Chicago, Miami and Melnbourne. I am not sure if we are being counted as a separate country or not. There is never a mention about our efforts.
So far it has been mostly out of our own pockets that has allowed us to compete. Unfortunately with inferior equipment.
We will have teo Sonar teams in Chicago for the NACC.

Riekus Hatzmann says:

Hi Geoff, very well said.

In 2005 I stopped being a member of the IFDS Eexcutive committee since I did not believe the focus and direction IFDS was taking would create a sustainable future for the sport at the Paralympics.

To be credible for the Paralympics we should have stopped pushing the one person keelboat but that would be fully against our believe that we should show the world how our sport can be done on equal level with able bodied sailors. Our endeavors to show this have been contra-productive because for the disabled sports organizations it showed there was no real need to have the sport at the Paralympic Games. ‘Why does at that time ISAF not bring 2.4mr class to the Olympic program’ was often mentioned.

IFDS exececutive however insisted in bringing a third event to the games.

Having been a member of the sports council of IPC for 12 years my feeling tells me Para World Sailing should focus on pushing those events which show participation of teams with combined disabilities and thus focusing on sailing as a team sport rather than as an individual sport.

Nowadays I am trying to get Golf to the Paralympics! Let’s see which sport will be on the program in 2024

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