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Story via Down Under Sail So the question that gets asked at sailing clubs right around Australia has now been firmly put on the agenda – we find ourselves questioning the relevance of the Olympics and also bashing on the decisions by our international governing body. And here we sit in our own corner of the world, and ask ourselves, in a day and age where the commercial world is swallowing everything in its path, where does sailing fit in the Olympics? A number of key sailors on the Olympic circuit recently penned an open letter to the sailing community, asking World Sailing to reconsider its thinking for the Paris 2024 Games, which has placed classes such as the 470 (men and women), Laser Standard (men), Laser Radial (women), the Finn (heavyweight men), and the men and women’s windsurfer under review. These sailors raise important issues about the importance and relevance of the classes they have trained in for years, but let us take a step back for a short time and look at this issue with a wider lens. Olympian Ash Stoddart competing at the Australian Laser Nationals in Adelaide in the 2016/17 summer. Photo: Dave Birss, Epsom Rd Studios For years, sailors have talked about how hard it is to make sailing a television sport, how it is not attractive to sponsors and advertisers, and how the demographic is one of older well-off individuals who don’t need the corporate support. It’s also clear our qualifying process for the Olympics is a shambles, outlined by the last cycle’s decision to not send a 49erFX crew to the Rio Games as they were not seen as a realistic medal chance, despite qualifying to compete. We covered this issue in an editorial piece titled ‘Sold a dream with no reality’. There are now several professional circuits around the world enabling sailors to make a living in their dream job. The America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Extreme Sailing Series, World Match Racing Tour and SuperFoiler Grand Prix are examples of this. They are examples of how corporate funding and an industry-driven product can make it in the mainstream, so why is it necessary to slog away on a four-year cycle, fork out the big bucks and put yourself significantly behind in life. The SuperFoiler Grand Prix has taken sailing by storm in the last year. Photo: Michael Chittenden Not everyone has an opportunity to invest that much time, effort and money and to bounce back on their feet once it is all said and done – and we can all agree that no matter who you are you need strong support networks to undertake this challenge. It’s sad that we don’t have to travel far in our sailing communities to find the stories of those that were unsuccessful and drained their savings reaching for the proverbial brass ring only to fall short and feel like years have been taken off their life. As a parent looking out for your child’s future, especially considering the hours of coaching and travel at youth level that is an investment in itself, wouldn’t you rather choose to steer them towards professional avenues that give them some form of financial security and a return on their investment, away from the Olympic pathway? Sure, it can be argued that many of the professional sailors in our sport today came from Olympic backgrounds, however the only reason they are at this point is because of access to high performance programs through the Australian Sailing Team and Australian Sailing Development Squads. What if this sort of training was available without the Olympics? When we look deeper into other water sports as examples, there is a lot we can learn about the industry as a whole. Take a look at Surfing Australia as an example. While the jury is still out on whether adding the sport to the 2020 Olympics will enhance the product, surfing has historically survived and thrived through a number of strong industry partnerships, as well as the occasional grant. Its funding ratio is a lot different to sailing, which relies heavily on grants and AOC funding and is therefore built in reverse. Surfing built the Hurley High Performance centre, a facility that has become the centrepiece of Australian Surfing and has yielded numerous World Titles on the WSL. This example proves sports do not need the Olympics to provide a high level of coaching and support. Why can’t our best Moth sailors head to a World Championship with this sort of backing? Why can’t someone at the top of their game heading to the America’s Cup have access to a training facility like this? Why can’t a local Sabre group or sailing club pay to spend a weekend at the facility and get better at what they do? And why can’t a school group spend a week learning how to sail, discovering a genuine pathway with a job at the end of it if they are good enough? Surely the Olympics is not the reason why everyone sails? It is great to rub shoulders with Olympians, but Mick Fanning has never been to the Olympics yet he is idolised by millions, and Steph Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons have been role models for young women all around the world and have never been to an Olympics. The WASZP foiler is proving that sailing can be fun, accessible and cost-effective. Photo: Hartas Productions We have a sailing industry that is bleeding money and struggling to survive as evidenced by depleting membership numbers at grass roots clubs right around Australia and the ongoing struggle for those clubs to find viable revenue streams, but why is this the case when we are a sport that is represented at an event that is supposedly the pinnacle of world sport? This goes to show the Olympics is not a commercial venture, it was originally designed to be a competition for amateurs and not a cheque book war. Hell, the Olympic creed even states that the overriding purpose of the Games is not to win, but to take part. Sailing is awkwardly stuck in the middle, with sponsors struggling to find bang for their buck on an Olympic athlete due to limited brand awareness, airtime or the fact that they are blocked from third-party deals that conflict with the governing body’s partnership and sponsorship deals. They may get 15 minutes of airplay if their athlete wins a medal, but is that really worth it? Considering the dollars that are being spent to get these athletes around the world, it seems like a massive cost. We’re not knocking the Olympics by any means, but more simply asking the question of ‘if we did not have sailing in the Olympics, would it open up more commercial opportunities for the industry as a whole and drive the direction of the sport?’ … we believe that it absolutely would. The outcome? We end up with a thriving industry that starts to give back to sailing and make more money available to spend growing participation at club level right across the country and not just at the major clubs on the eastern seaboard. Rather than everyone fighting for their slice of the pie, we actually have the opportunity to make the pie bigger. Most businesses in our industry are fantastic supporters of local sailing, however there is no money in it for them and they find themselves doing it purely for love. We need our sport to be industry-driven and to gain rewards as a result, but unfortunately with the Olympics as the centrepiece and a governing body that needs to win medals to keep their 100 staff in jobs, we find ourselves running around in circles and slowly going nowhere as a sport. Have a think about why people sail in the first place. The Laser isn’t popular because it’s an Olympic class, it’s popular because it’s accessible. The WASZP has exploded onto the Australian Sailing scene in massive numbers and has proven it can harness the troublesome age bracket of 18 to 35. This is because the class itself is accessible, cost-effective and a bucket load of fun. 16ft Skiffs are going through another growth spurt in New South Wales and are again dragging 18 to 35 year olds back to a sport they had since been burnt out of. We ask ourselves the same question of why, and keep coming back to the fact it’s because the clubs are driving the participation and they’re in total control of the outcome, which creates financial incentive to them and the industry itself. The 505 is one of the strongest international amateur classes in the world. At the end of the day our respect level for Olympians is there in spades, they are fantastic athletes who have worked incredibly hard, spent thousands of dollars, and achieved their ultimate goal. To spend four, eight or even 12 years doing that has to be a brutal existence, so absolutely hats off. But out of the 10 disciplines we race at the Olympics, we see about 16 athletes from our country every four years that get to sail at the highest level – millions upon millions of dollars paid by tax-payers and sailors around the country to service 16 sailors. Where does a club like Port Kembla Sailing Club in Wollongong fit into this? Or Parkdale Yacht Club in Victoria? Or even the Port Lincoln Yacht Club in South Australia? All these clubs have produced champions at various levels, as well as exported sailors to the professional circuit. Yet on the same note, there is absolutely no high-performance funding available at these clubs for development, they do it themselves and they are surviving… just. Our opinion is that clubs and sailors should not be looking for handouts from Australian Sailing. The brief for them as a governing body is to win medals and provide education and training opportunities while also having a focus on youth sailing through a small selection of classes that find themselves on the same trajectory to classes raced in the Olympics. This hole that the grass roots of our sport is in, that is growing deeper and deeper from year to year, is not their fault, as they are judged on the outcomes set by their board and that their funding is dictated by. The sooner we all begin to look away from Olympic sailing and align our club structures with what is happening in the real world, the sooner the industry will be able to move forward. Take a look at the statistics from recent cycles of Australian class championships. The findings are damning. 49erFX: 9 boats (18 sailors) 49er: 12 boats (24 sailors) Finn: 29 boats (29 sailors) Laser Radial: 75 boats (75 sailors) Laser Standard: 30 boats (30 sailors) Nacra 17: 2 boats (4 sailors) 470 Men (2017): 5 boats (10 sailors) 470 Women (2017): 5 boats (10 sailors). The RSX even had an integrated event with the race board and formula windsurfing event and was outnumbered greatly by amateur formula and race board sailors. The Australian Sharpie Class always shows strong numbers at national events from year to year. Photo: Danielle Godden Now take a look at other senior class options that are not on the Olympic trajectory and the participation rates they create with no support from Australian Sailing. 16ft Skiffs: 57 boats (171 sailors) Sharpie (2017): 44 boats (132 sailors) 505: 39 boats (78 sailors) Sabre: 55 boats and sailors in 2018, 65 in 2017, and 130 in 2013 Impulse: 39 boats and sailors in 2018, 49 in 2017 A-Class Cats: 51 boats (51 sailors) Moth: 38 boats (38 sailors) WASZP: 36 boats (36 sailors) Etchells: 32 boats (100-120 sailors) One-design windsurfer: 49 in 2018, 80 in 2017. While a number of these classes are down on numbers from previous years and some have shown growth, what it tells us is that Olympic sailing does not keep people in the sport. Unfortunately we find newcomers are not being told of the different pathways they can take in the sport and find themselves with nowhere to go when the youth scene wraps up at 18 years of age. Some go surfing, some play team sports, and for others life just gets in the way, but who can blame them? The absolute last thing most of them want to do once they finish their junior and youth sailing is slog away for four years on a campaign trail that costs a bomb and has an extremely low success rate. We think clubs are the key to driving the sport forward. Photo: Down Under Sail This should be the most exciting time for a sailor, when you’ve finished school and have the opportunity to grab your boat and travel across the country with your mates having the time of your life, all the while enjoying everything a life around the water has to offer. It can be done economically, in your own time, and is a world away from the so called “pathway” we’re all told we need to be on. Down Under Sail is trying to drive the industry forward and needs your support. If you have retention issues or your class is looking for the exposure it deserves, let us know and we can help. Together with our industry partners we want to drive the direction of the sport and give it back to the everyday sailor.
Man, I dig nationality when it comes to the America's Cup. When I first became aware of the America's Cup back in 1987 national pride dominated those of us in America who were rooting for Dennis Conner to bring the Cup back home from Australia. DC's boat was even named "Stars and Stripes" for God's sake. And when he successfully won he went on a celebration tour around America starting with a ticker tape parade in New York City. As an 11 year old kid at that time national pride is what hooked me on the America's Cup and the same thing happened a year later during the Seoul Olympics when American athletes like Matt Biondi and Carl Lewis opened my eyes to the Olympics for the first time and made me proud to be an American. Sure growing up in Annapolis I spent a lot of time on my Step Father's sail boats so it stands to reason I should be a fan of the Cup right? Not necessarily. When it comes to nationality in the America's Cup I've compared it to the Olympics many times in the past while debating in America's Cup Anarchy (ACA). Every four years TV ratings in the US go through the roof for such sports as Men's/Women's Swimming, Women's Gymnastics, Men's/Women's Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing events, etc... Sports that no one not intimately involved in said sports give a rats ass about the 3 1/2 years between Olympics. Nationality is the reason why these sports matter every 4 years, the only reason. Hell, just the other day one of the biggest beneficiaries of Nationalism in regards to the Olympics, Michael Phelps, was on TV for an hour getting ready to, and actually racing, a computer generated great white shark to see which was faster of a 100m course. If it wasn't the nationalistic pull of the Olympics no one would of given two shits who Michael Phelps was never mind wasting an hour waiting for him to race a fake shark. Another good example of nationalism making certain sports popular look at Women's Soccer. Women like Mia Hamm and the shirtless Brandi Chastain rocketed to stardom on the back of the American flag. At one point they thought they were the reason for their success, not USA on their chest, so they started a professional Women's Soccer league. It lasted three years and lost approximately 100 million before it folded. Why? People wanted to see the USA Women's Soccer team not the Bay Area CyberRays or the Washington Freedom. The America's Cup falls in the same category as Swimming and Women's Soccer in my opinion. Embrace nationalism and people will pay attention. Will the Cup ever be on the level of the Olympics? Doubtful, but nationalism could generate enough interest to successfully fund teams from many different nations and secure the future viability of the Cup for years to come. But when I say embrace nationalism in regards to the Cup I don't mean half assed measures like what Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts tried to pull for AC34 and AC35. Where they slapped TEAM USA on every part of their boats and gear yet had the entire sailing team jabbering on with an Aussie twang. American's might be largely ignorant when it comes to sail boat racing, but they know when someone is trying to bullshit them when they see a boat with TEAM USA on it but the guy behind the wheel sounds like Crocodile DunDee's kid. Now with Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) the new defenders of the Cup there is talk of a true nationality rule. Nothing specific has been announced but there is talk of anywhere from 50% to 80% of the sailing team must be from the nation of the yacht club (challenger) they represent. I would much rather 60% to 80% for this cycle of the Cup but 50% is better than nothing, IMO. After the debacle that was AC35 (American Defender not defending in America) a nationality rule is crucial for the much needed reset of the Cup. Especially when it comes to America's involvement in the Cup. Not since AC31 back in 2003 has there been more than one American team competing for the Cup. Since 2003 Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing team has been the sole American, in name only, team. Between 2007 and now Ellison's Oracle Team has went from being ashamed to fly the American flag over their team base in Valencia, Spain to riding off to Bermuda to defend the Cup because cities like San Francisco wouldn't pony up money and property to Uncle Larry Ellison. But now us American fans of the Cup may be done with Larry Ellison supposedly representing America in the Cup. With Ellison's sworn enemy in Grant Dalton part of the organization effort, and reportedly up to three American teams not affiliated with Ellsion expressing interest in challenging for the Cup, there is hope that at least one true American challenger will be on the water in New Zealand when AC36 kicks off. And with American sailors like Bora Gulari saying that they only have interest being part of the Cup if its with a true American challenge (http://sailinganarchy.com/2017/07/24/thats-a-wrap-5/) it says to me nationality is not dead when it comes to the Cup. At least I hope not... WetHog Whats on my IPad song of the day:
MR.CLEAN posted a topic in Sailing AnarchyAs many US Sailing Team fans will already have noted, two-time Aussie gold medal crew Malcolm Page was named new US Sailing Team Director today. A college dinghy and team racer who came to the team after years as a magazine publisher, Adams was charged with what may have been an impossible task for someone with his experience level; to bring the US Team back from its dismal, zero-medal performance in London and make a real impression in Rio. Despite what seemed like a good plan for Brazil, the team's 2016 performance was only tolerable in comparison to the 2012 debacle, and something had to change for the next quad. To hear Josh's early plans in a 2014 interview with Mr. Clean, click here. Fortunately, US Sailing finally did what we've been begging them for a decade - quit hiring your management consultant and magazine publishing pals from New England for this essential job, and find someone with a proven history of winning - even if you have to headhunt them from somewhere else. Enter Mal Page, who aside from being the most decorated dinghy sailor in Aussie history, may be the only sailor to ever win a gold medal with two different skippers. Page walks away from one of the toughest jobs in sailing - Marketing Director for ISAF - to take on another extremely job, but one he's uniquely prepared for. We say this not because Page has led a big team to success; we say it because he was part of one of the winningest olympic sailing teams in modern history, and a very clever lad. Perhaps more importantly, he comes from a decade worth of training under the world's best olympic sailing coach - Victor "The Medal Maker" Kovalenko (pictured with Page, above). While it's too much to hope that Victor will defect to the USA as part of the deal (Kovalenko has famously turned down some huge international paydays to stick with his adopted homeland downunder), Page should have all the tools he needs to recreate the winning culture enjoyed by the US Sailing Team up until the past decade. You guys always come up with the best questions, and I'll be speaking to Mal tomorrow morning for this week's SA Podcast. What do you want to know about the team, the plans for Tokyo 2020, about Malcolm in general, or whatever? Post here.
From the 'I'll believe it when I see it' department: https://www.seahorsemagazine.com/107-content/april-2017/472-showcase-olympic-offshore-sailing There's a possibility of seeing Offshore sailing in the 2020 (Tokyo) Games. The plan seems to be 9-12m boats, manufacturer-supplied. 3-4 days sailing, with live-updating video and tracker. More info from the Oceanic and Offshore Committee Minutes, point 16 (from Nov 2016, so maybe slightly out-of-date): https://members.sailing.org/tools/documents/2016OC1011-.pdf