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Continuing to #BackTheBid

by Mark Jardine 7 Feb 19:00 GMT
Chris Symonds on day 4 of Sail Melbourne 2023 © Beau Outteridge

It was a bitter blow for sailing last week when the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that Para Sailing would not be included in the LA28 Paralympic Games.

In 2021 World Sailing put together a strong #BacktheBid campaign to have sailing reinstated, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. 33 sports were seeking inclusion, with only 22 approved. No sport thus far has ever been reinstated, so it was always going to be a battle.

Everyone involved in Para Sailing, and the wider sailing community, knows just how liberating being on the water and being powered by the wind can be. The Paralympics showcase sports to a far wider community and would have inspired more people to give sailing a go; the decision will have ramifications for our sport, but it is absolutely vital that the setback means we all redouble our efforts to support Para Sailing, and work towards it being included at the 2032 Paralympic Games.

On the decision David Graham, CEO of World Sailing, said, "We fully respect the verdict of the IPC and recognise the difficulty the IPC Board faced throughout this process.

"However, we must also acknowledge that this is an extremely disappointing day for our whole sport and, in particular, for Para Sailors around the world. Despite this setback, our commitment to our Para Sailors, to the continued growth of Para Sailing, and to the wider Para Sport movement will only grow stronger.

"We know a life on water unlocks so many opportunities for disabled people, we know how inclusive Para Sailing is, and we are determined that Para Sailing will continue to go from strength to strength."

I spoke with David at the end of last week, and while he was clearly desperately disappointed, his determination to continue the growth of Para Sailing was very evident. Working with the Para Sailing Committee and the World Sailing Board, he is keen to take on board the learnings from this bid, address shortcomings, and build a stronger bid for the next Games. It may feel like a long time away, but it's essential that the momentum continues so that Para Sailing makes it return when the 2032 Paralympic Games are held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

While not reaching its ultimate goal, there is no doubt that the #BackTheBid has had successes, and united sailors, as David explained, "It was heart-warming to receive feedback from Alexandra Rickham, World Sailing's Head of Sustainability and double Paralympic medallist, who thanked World Sailing for their efforts, as she said the Para Sailing community felt more a part of the wider sailing community than ever before. It was really nice to hear, and I believe the campaign has brought the whole sailing federation together, with support from all corners of the globe."

So now is the time for sailing to push on with its support of Para Sailing, and continue to integrate it with major sailing events. There are now 41 nations on five continents active in Para Sailing, and over 630 active Para Sailors registered with World Sailing, and it is vital this continues to build.

This was backed up by David Graham: "One of the feedback points we had from the IPC was that as well as the sanctioned events, Para Sailing should be part of the Sailing World Championships."

Combining events has the potential for cost savings for National Teams, as the equipment can all be transported together, as well as having the knowledge from the whole sailing team and coaches improving sailors across the board.

The Paralympics are of course the very top of the triangle when it comes to participation, and nothing can exist or grow without grassroots Para Sailing being strong.

The classes available to disabled sailors, such as the 2.4mR, RS Venture Connect, Hansa, Challenger, Sonar, and now Para Kiteboarding, give more options than ever as to what to sail, and more and more clubs are building facilities to enable Para Sailing to take place at their venue.

In the UK we regularly receive great reports from the Hansa and Challenger classes, which have strong and active circuits at clubs around the country.

We are lucky to have a strong sailing club infrastructure in the UK, which isn't always the case in other countries. Building circuits and programs worldwide requires coordination and strategy, and in 2017 World Sailing launched its Para Sailing Development Program to help increase participation in all regions. Since then over 210 sailors and coaches from 39 countries on six continents have completed the program. This program must continue to build, and opportunities for Para Sailing worldwide must increase.

All the time it is important to remember why sailing must do this. Whether you're involved in the administration of our sport at World Sailing, a secretary at a sailing club, a professional in the marine industry, a coach, a volunteer, or an active sailor, keep at the front of your mind the opportunities, the liberation, and the feeling that sailing can provide for everyone. Yes, it would have been fantastic to see Para Sailing reinstated in LA28, but #BackTheBid is now far more than the original goal.

We must make Para Sailing an intrinsic part of all sailing and ensure that the opportunities to get on the water truly are for all. Together we can do far more, and then hopefully Para Sailing can become the first sport to be reinstated to the Paralympics in 2032.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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