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Paris 2024: Key decisions on 2024 Olympic classes

by Richard Gladwell/ 19 May 16:28 BST 20 May 2019
The Laser will be the Mens and Womens One Person Dinghy at the 2024 Olympics, provided they can get their legal affairs resolved by August 1, 2019 © Richard Gladwell

The Council of World Sailing have made several decisions on Sunday, its final day of the three-day Meeting.

The first of the decisions concerned the equipment for the Mixed Kite Event - where Council accepted the recommendation of the Equipment Committee.

They approved the Int 470 as the Mixed Two Person Dinghy, there being just a single option.

The recommendation from the Board that the RS:X was retained as the Men's and Women's Windsurfer equipment was rejected, and all nominated equipment/classes will be put through an Evaluation Trial

After an attempt to defer the decision on the Men's and Women's One Person Dinghy was not supported, a vote was then held which overwhelmingly favoured the Laser/ILCA by 36 votes to 5 for the men, and for the women by 37 votes for the ILCA/Laser and 4 for the Aero. The Equipment Committee had recommended the RS Aero for both Events.

However, the sting in the tail is that World Sailing has decreed that all classes in the Review process must have their FRAND (Anti-Trust compliant) agreements complete by August 1, 2019, or another class will be selected for that Event. The only class really affected by this requirement is the ILCA/Laser, who now don't have the luxury of getting a Court to settle their differences and will have to negotiate a solution to their licencing and trademark issues.

That date gives only two months to sort out what is legally a very complex issue, and one between two or more parties who have been preparing for a stoush for some time.

That, of course, is to say nothing of the possibility of a new rig for the Olympics - which Laser Performance and ILCA having developed some options of their own.

The Laser Performance/ILCA has been given a stay of execution. ILCA has compiled an impressive list of builders for the class, and the new arrangement will be watched with interest, with North and South America being the real test.

The margin of the vote in favour of the Laser can be summarised President Kim Andersen's comment that the Councillors had to vote for the class that worked best for their country/area. While the 2018 World Championships for the RS Aero in Weymouth UK may have attracted a credible fleet of 209 boats over 50% were from Britain in what was an open entry championship. It was clear from the comments of Councillors particularly from the emerging nations and the like that they were aghast at the prospect of having to ditch their Laser fleet, such as it is, in favour of a new class. The fact that the Laser is embedded as the Youth boat in most countries makes it even more difficult to change out what will be a nearly 50-year-old design, next year.

RS:X to be put to the test

It was a similar story with the RS:X windsurfer, where several countries and a group of leading sailors spoke out against the continuance of the RS:X as recommended by the Board. The CEO of Yachting NZ, David Abercrombie, spoke up at Events Committee saying that windsurfing had virtually died off entirely in New Zealand - once the predominant nation in the Event. However, since the advent of the windfoil, participation in the foiling Board had jumped massively with 75 active competitors and 50 sailors contesting the inaugural Nationals. He essentially confirmed the sentiments expressed in the open letter of current Olympic and World Championship Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED).

In the Council, Area L representative Sarah Kenny (AUS) echoed the Kiwi and Dutch sentiments laying the poor participation in RS:X events in the Lucky Country at the door of the RS:X.

So it was maybe not a surprise that the argument that was was good for the Goose was good for the Gander - and if the Laser could be put to the test in an Evaluation Trial, then the RS:X should do so, too.

Kenny also beat the Universality drum - the measure of the International Olympic Committee who count the number of countries participating in the qualification leading to the Olympic Sailing Regatta. The two classes/four classes that World Sailing rely on to deliver this key statistic are the Men's and Women's One Person Dinghy (Laser and Laser Radial) and the Mens and Women's Windsurfer (RS:X). Getting in the way of this is the Men's 470 which actually ranked #4 in terms of participation in the run-up to Rio 2016.

Kenny claimed that RS:X had plateaued in terms of delivering more competitors. In hindsight the Council seemed to be happy with doing an Evaluation Trial for the Windsurfer and retaining the Laser/Laser Radial, they were in a strong position for the 2024 Universality statistics.

Losing the Arms Race

The Mixed Two Person Keelboat is described in polite circles as a "work in progress". One gets the feeling that there is a real element of "she'll be right on the night".

There is already a conflict between the poachers and gamekeepers, with the latter wishing to pursue a policy of preventing an "arms race" and the former, still lurking very much in the forest, but always looking to game the Event as much as possible - depending what rules the gamekeeper and their masters put in place.

The situation did not change at the Council meeting with the situation largely as reported from the previous day at the Equipment Committee click here.

The Board's Urgent submission changing the announcement date of the long list of classes deemed suitable by World Sailing for training and qualification to December 2020, with the expectation that some form of trialling or events would get underway soon afterwards. It was stated that already approaches had been made to World Sailing to host such events.

The date for the announcement of the offshore Olympic class was passed by 38-2 to be December 2023, despite reservations again being expressed as to whether that would be sufficient for the chosen builder to actually construct and have the boats pass acceptance testing for the Olympic Sailing Regatta in late July 2024.

From the floor came the suggestion that all sailors would have to sign a declaration that they had not previously sailed the Olympic offshore keelboat, naively ignored the fact that the sailors might have sailed boat before World Sailing drew its name out of the hat in December 2023.

The construction time issue was addressed by saying that the class could be announced before December 2023, but of course, an earlier date would make it even more attractive to buy or charter boats by the Sailing Super Powers and setting up camp in Marseille or a location which weather studies had shown to be similar.

One gets the impression that World Sailing has lost its self-styled Arms Race before it has even started.