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Twenty Twenty-Four

by Mark Jardine 4 Apr 18:30 BST
2021 iQFOIL European Championships, day 3 © Pierick Jeannoutot

George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale about the future, with concepts so powerful that the term "Orwellian" became an adjective. The story of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation is in many ways, sadly, as relevant today as when it was written in 1949.

Looking forwards, and on a far brighter note, Twenty Twenty-Four has the potential to be a watershed moment for sailing. Events go through peaks and troughs, mirroring waves on the sea, and in two years' time sailing will be riding on a huge wave as a number of events which showcase the sport to a wider audience will be happening back-to-back.

At the end of July, in just 845 days' time, we have the Paris 2024 Olympics, with the debut of the iQfoil windsurfing and kitefoiling classes. The sailing will be held in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, which should provide a striking backdrop for the racing.

I've had many an email from traditionalists who don't regard the kitefoiling, and to a lesser extent foiling windsurfing, as sailing, but my firm belief is these disciplines deserve their place in the Games and attract a younger generation to watch Olympic sailing.

Yes, it would have been great to see the mixed doublehanded offshore event, so that keelboat sailing was represented, but security and cost concerns nixed that, and fair play to World Sailing for quickly putting in place the replacement events. The same pair of concerns have also put paid to a 5,000-seat grandstand being built for the sailing, but our sport is often better to watch on a screen with overlayed graphics than from shoreside, where even seasoned sailors can struggle to understand what is going on.

This entire Olympic Games is slowly reinventing itself, faced with the popularity of events such as the X Games and Esports. Breakthrough disciplines, such as BMX, Skateboard and Sport Climbing, grabbed our interest and new stars were born.

Tokyo 2020 felt like a changing of the guard moment for sailing, with many legendary sailors choosing the moment to retire from Olympic campaigning. With the new sailing disciplines, younger stars will be thrust into the limelight and start to become the role-models for the next generation of sailing heroes.

We'll hardly have time to draw breath before attention moves south-west 184 nautical miles, into the Balearic Sea and Barcelona, for the 37th America's Cup in September and October 2024. On Tuesday the Spanish city was announced as the Host Venue for the event, where Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) will defend the Auld Mug. Once again, the city will provide a striking backdrop to the racing and time-zones work well for both the European and North American audiences to watch the racing live, although of course less-so for the defenders.

ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton said at the announcement: "Barcelona really is one of the most recognised cities in the world, so to have the ability to host the most recognised sailing event in the world is hugely exciting. As Defender of the America's Cup, we have always felt the responsibility to grow the event, the audience, and the sport of sailing on a global scale and certainly having the event hosted in a significant city such as Barcelona will allow us to propel the growth trajectory on the global sporting stage.

"When thinking ahead to the 37th America's Cup and the AC75's racing within a few hundred metres of the Barcelona beach, waterfront, and race village fan engagement zones it will be nothing less than spectacular."

This will be the second outing for the AC75 design, with a Version 2 rule seeing the crew reduced from eleven to eight sailors, a lighter hull, increased wingspan and the return of 'cyclors'.

"Reducing crew numbers has reduced the all-up weight of the boat. We are saving about 1,000kg of weight, which - coupled with the increase in wingspan - will drastically improve the light air performance. After Auckland we have agreed that is important," explains INEOS Britannia's CEO Sir Ben Ainslie.

There are already four Challengers signed up for the event. Challenger of Record INEOS Britannia, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and NYYC American Magic are returning for another tilt at the cup, together with Alinghi Red Bull Racing, returning to the America's Cup after an absence of more than a decade. The French K Challenge may well also enter the fray with CEO Stephan Kandler indicating a formal challenge was imminent, and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that another team may emerge.

Formula One partnerships are continuing to push the boundaries of technology, with both Mercedes and Red Bull Racing involved in a big way with two of the teams, which could see the speeds reach another incredible level. A condition of entry is being part of a potential behind-the-scenes documentary series, which could really help bring the technologies, and the personalities, into the limelight ahead of the America's Cup event itself.

The Women's America's Cup Regatta and the Youth America's Cup, both to be sailed in the new AC40 class, are hugely exciting developments which should help increase the audience of the event.

Last, but by no means least, we move on to the start of the Vendée Globe 2024-25 on 10th November. This non-stop, singlehanded round the world race is going from strength to strength and could well see an incredible 40 IMOCA yachts competing, after 33 started the 2020-21 edition.

The event has always been huge in France but is being embraced more and more globally. The winning skippers - such as Alain Gautier, Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart - are household names in France, and famously no other nation has won the event, despite some strong challenges from the likes of Ellen MacArthur and Alex Thomson, who have both finished runners-up.

The personal stories and rescues, such as Jean Le Cam picking up Kevin Escoffier from his liferaft off the Cape of Good Hope, and Pip Hare's incredible and engaging updates from on board in the last edition, make headlines around the world.

All-in-all, 2024's marquee sailing events are set to be diverse rather than dystopian, looking forwards, yet steeped in history. The countdown for those competing has already started, and the build-up events and announcements are under way. While every moment will be caught on camera, Twenty Twenty-Four can be far more positive than Nineteen Eighty-Four's "Big Brother".

It's an exciting time and having sailing in the limelight will help build the grassroots boom we've seen in the past couple of years turn into long-term growth for our sport.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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