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World Sailing's chance to move sailing forwards... will they take it?

by Mark Jardine 14 May 14:00 BST
A Laser and RS Aero battle it out at the GJW Direct Bloody Mary 2019 © Mark Jardine

A big decision is coming up this weekend for sailing. The decision makers are those right at the centre of the sport's governing body: World Sailing's Council. The question is, will they support their own appointed evaluators, or even vote on the decision at all?

World Sailing conducted the 2024 Olympic Men's and Women's One Person Dinghy Equipment trials in March and recently announced the RS Aero as the top scorer. The Evaluation Panel dedicated time and effort to the process, developing a scoring matrix against which the four designs were scored based on the evaluation criteria for the event. The RS Aero scored 80%, the Laser 69%, the Melges 14 54% and the D-Zero 52%.

This Sunday World Sailing's Council are set to vote on the choice. Will they go with the Evaluation Panel's recommendations? Will they even vote at all? Such as the processes and machinations within World Sailing, it's incredibly hard to predict either question, but my best guess for each one is 'no'.

Each class and discipline within sailing has its own support group and sailing is not alone in having lobby groups which put forward the case for their particular craft, be that through their MNA*, contacting Council members, writing PR for their class, setting up petitions on Change.org or getting famous sailors to write on Facebook usually a combination of all of the above.

The Laser or ILCA class has been in turmoil lately with the argument between LaserPerformance and the International Laser Class Association. Is this really a class in a fit state to continue to be regarded as the Olympic One Person Dinghy?

I sail a Laser down at my local club most weekends. I'm not sure I can call it a Laser, Weekender, ILCA or Kirby Torch as it's covered in clone parts; the boom is by TridentUK, the sail by Rooster, the rudder was made by John Claridge, the kicker by Allen Brothers and the ratchet block by Barton Marine. The hull was made in 1978 - I've found it was originally a fetching orange - and does me just fine for club racing, but the sport of sailing has moved on and modern, eye-catching, comfier boats such as the Aero are here and are just more fun to sail.

My old Frankenlaser does the job, but it is not comfortable to hike and the mainsheet wrapping on the transom during gybes still bugs me. I know I can get around this half of the time with technique, but it can still happen to the best sailors!

The companies involved in the Equipment Trials put huge amounts of time, effort and money into attending these events, as do World Sailing's Evaluation Panel. If, as has happened before, the Council ignore the recommendations and instead listen to the loudest voices on social media and their inbox, then World Sailing risks alienating the industry, disenfranchising its own volunteers and failing in its duty of care for the sport.

World Sailing's Council has an opportunity to move the sport of sailing forwards on the Olympic stage, or it can just bow to the pressure of intransigent groups. Let's see after the weekend how things have panned out. Maybe, just maybe, they could have faith in their Evaluation Panel and endorse their exhaustive scoring process.

* MNA Member National Authority

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