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Noble Marine 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Nurture the roots to enjoy the fruit

by Mark Jardine 19 Apr 20:00 BST
Junior Sailing at Keyhaven © Mark Jardine

Without doubt, my favourite day on the water all year is when I run the first Junior Sailing session of the year at my local club. I feel incredibly lucky that Keyhaven Yacht Club has a combination of an idyllic location, sheltered waters, a growing fleet of club-owned dinghies and supportive parents.

We had 23 kids out on the water on Saturday, all of whom came back ashore with huge smiles on their faces and looking forward to the next session in a fortnight's time. We were lucky that the weather was fine, and the breeze was relatively light; as we all know, conditions aren't always like that, but making their first experiences of sea sailing enjoyable is key to creating sailors for life.

The challenges of the past year have made us all look at how technology can help us manage sailing in its various forms, and I have to admit that I'm struggling with the options currently available for amateur sporting sessions. We use various apps, such as Teamer, SignUp, Dutyman, Whatsapp and Zoom, and I'm now doing online briefings and debriefs using OBS Studio and uploading onto YouTube. I can't help thinking that an app which combined the better features of all of these into one is what organisers around the world are crying out for. Maybe it exists and I don't know about it... if so, please email me and I'd love to take a look!

Looking at the bigger picture - rather than my current microcosm of the western end of the Solent - building sailing participation must be done from the ground up, and anything that can help the army of volunteers who facilitate getting those new to sailing onto the water must be embraced. There is no shortage of enthusiasm, but we must continue to work tirelessly to break down the barriers, be those perceived, organisational or structural.

Moving to the top of the sailing pyramid, the tenth medal for sailing at the Paris 2024 Olympics was thrown into turmoil with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) raising concerns about the Mixed Offshore Event. The main issues the IOC had were: field of play security, broadcast cost and lack of a World Championship thus far. While they haven't said "no" to the concept, by asking for an alternative they are effectively telling World Sailing that the Mixed Offshore Event isn't going to happen.

World Sailing now have an extremely short deadline to put an acceptable proposal to the IOC, and those classes who want to place submissions have to get them ready in an even shorter deadline. The event must be mixed, as Paris 2024 will have 100% gender equality, so finding a solution which fits the criteria must either be a combination of dinghies suitable for both men and women - such as the submission from the Finn and Europe classes - or a boat which will be sailed by a mixed crew. I'm beginning to think my April 1st article in 2020 about the Star class returning as the mixed offshore keelboat may not be far off the mark after all...

Other alternatives have been suggested, such as match racing making a return, or even team racing using a roster of sailors from other classes competing at the event, opening up the opportunity for sailors to medal twice at a single Olympics, but the major obstacle to that is it would narrow down the potential teams to those who were fielding a big enough roster of sailors at the games. This would be discouraging to emerging nations and hardly fit the inclusive ideal.

Why is this important for grass roots sailing and growth in the sport? The answer to this is twofold...

Firstly, sport is inherently aspirational. While the vast majority of us only compete at a club level, some will go on to national events, then international and a few exceptionally talented sailors will make it to the Olympics. For those who are competitive, the pathways need to be there, and they need to be clear. Without those goals, many young sailors will look to alternative sports to try and achieve their goals. The Olympics give us our role models and is an important showcase for sailing to a global audience.

Secondly, like it or not, World Sailing is the federation for our sport, and it derives most of its income from the Olympics. If a suitable alternative isn't found, then there simply won't be a tenth sailing event and the rot wouldn't stop there. We need a strong sailing federation, and if World Sailing were to fail then a huge void would be left that would need filling.

Some questionable decisions, such as moving the headquarters to London, have left World Sailing in a less than ideal financial position, but David Graham, who is the new Chief Executive Officer, is in my opinion the right man to guide the federation through this time. Being appointed to the post in July 2020, he's had a turbulent time of it, but he has worldwide experience in sales, events, coaching and sponsorships, and most importantly is passionate about sailing. The structure of World Sailing and its decision-making processes is complex to say the least, but if it's possible to weave a path forwards, then he can do it.

The grass roots and professional side of sports are connected, and stability is key. The world of football (or soccer to our American friends) has been thrown into turmoil by a breakaway European Super League plan, driven by the financial incentives dangled in front of the elite clubs. While sailing is in no way football, we need to come together in what is a perilous time and back our federation. I will in time talk with David Graham about how to truly support grass-roots sailing around the globe, providing all the tools needed to make it as easy as possible, but I'll give him some time to get through this and the Tokyo Olympics (as long as they happen) first.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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