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Whisper it quietly..

by Mark Jardine 9 Jul 20:00 BST
Opening Ceremony of The Hempel Youth Sailing World Championships 2019 © World Sailing

Don't say it too loudly, but the Youth Sailing World Championships are taking place at Lake Garda in under a week's time.

This coming weekend sees the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, the Practice Race on Sunday, then racing proper from Monday to Friday. You'd be forgiven if you didn't know, as the latest news on the official website is dated 15th April and the event's Facebook page hasn't been updated since 22nd December. We've received news from various nations about the teams they're sending, but no recent news releases from the event itself.

The Youth Worlds should be a marquee event in sailing, arguably third only to the Olympics and the America's Cup. This is where we see the household names of the future battling it out. The next generation of sailing stars on their road to gold. Breakthrough moments happen at the Youth Worlds, where coaches see a major new talent and sponsors get in early to support a sailor in their burgeoning career in the sport.

For the Youth Sailing World Championships to be approaching so quietly under the radar is a travesty. I understand that budgets are tight, but many other events are doing a fine job of getting their news out there. Are we in the press part of the problem here? Yes, undoubtably so. I, amongst others, should have addressed this a while ago, and for that I apologise, but World Sailing need to take the lead on this one and publicise their event far better.

For one of the great sailing nations, there won't even be a team. Australia isn't attending, and didn't field a team for the 2023 event in Búzios, Brazil. That can't be right.

I interviewed Alistair Murray, President of Australia Sailing, to find out more about youth pathways in Australia, and why they weren't sending a team. He talked about the situation where youth classes are attracting 30 to 40 boats, but that the kids usually come from sailing families.

Sailing is a hugely successful Olympic sport for Australia, especially in more recent times. The Aussies are in second place in the all-time Olympic sailing medal table (behind Great Britain), yet the domestic fleets in some of the Olympic classes, particularly the 470, are small. Also, many of Australia's most successful sailors could walk down the street in Sydney without being recognised. It's a strange dichotomy.

Alistair wants sailing to be a mainstream sport, but to do that Australia needs a lot more sailors. In the interview, he reinforces that Australian Sailing are a huge supporter of World Sailing, and he wants to see Australia represented at the Youth Worlds, but outlines how the country's geographic location, and the funding required to send a team, led them to decide not to hold the necessary trials and not to send a team in 2023 and 2024.

He argues that for those who do attend the Youth Worlds it's a wonderful experience, but there are too few who get to take part. Therefore, Australian Sailing are putting their focus on the championships that each class hold and generally more of a squad based approach.

He's right to say that a tiny microcosm of those who take part in our sport get to race in the Youth Sailing World Championships, but the same can be said for the Olympics and the America's Cup, and they are aspirational. The Youth Worlds needs Australia, and I argue that Australia needs to be at the Youth Worlds.

Youth sailing isn't broken, as the plethora of youth world championships held lately attest. The past week has seen the ILCA Under 21 Worlds in Viana do Castelo, Portugal, the Formula Kite Youth Worlds in Gizzeria, Italy and the 29er Europeans in Gdynia, Poland, and the past couple of months have seen countless other youth events around the world, some with incredibly high competitor numbers.

It's superb to see these events happening, and the huge turnouts, but they aren't the same as the Youth Sailing World Championships. The fragmented nature doesn't have the same team focus and the lack of multi-discipline sailing doesn't have the cross-fertilisation of ideas and the same camaraderie. At a single-class championship multiple sailors from a single nation aren't just competing against other nations, they're competing against each other, and sometimes also against adult sailors.

The Nations Trophy for best overall nation at the Youth Sailing World Championship should be one of the most coveted in sailing. France are the runaway leaders in this, winning twelve times, followed by Italy, who are defending the trophy at Lake Garda, with five wins, then Australia and Great Britain tied on four wins. Yes, that's the Australia who aren't even attending at Lake Garda.

The Youth Worlds deserves more. Sailing needs a successful Youth World Championships, and this event needs to be brought back into the public eye. National governing bodies for sailing should have this front and centre on their annual scheduling, so that the best of the best from each nation, in each discipline, get to race in a format similar to that at the Olympics.

Australia's future participation in the event is always under consideration, so let's hope the right people talk to each other to make this happen, get the format of the event right, and then tell the world all about it. I promise we'll play our part in getting that news out there.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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