Boats for Rio 2016
Given the momentous changes that seem set to take place in Olympic sailing for Rio 2016, Carolijn Brouwer is perhaps the ideal candidate to provide the inside track. Given the introduce of two 'mixed' classes, she was the last person to make use of an ‘open’ class, when she raced the Tornado in Athens as part of a mixed crew with Seb Godefroid. Secondly, Brouwer also sits on numerous committees within ISAF including the all-important ‘Equipment’ and ‘Events’ committees, the latter being the one that made the proposal for the equipment for Rio 2016, subsequently agreed to the ISAF Council.
To recap a little, the choice of events for Rio 2016 will not be finalised until ISAF’s Mid Year meeting in May next year and is certain to be subject from some intense lobbying before then. There are also some flaws in the proposal which we’ll come on to. The specific equipment itself to be used for the events won’t be finalised until much later, after it has undergone evaluation trials.
The events are as follows:
- Men’s Board or kite board – evaluation
- Women’s board or kite board – evaluation
- Men’s one person dinghy – Laser
- Women’s one person dinghy – Laser Radial
- Men’s skiff – 49er
- Women’s skiff – evaluation
- Mixed multihull – evaluation
- Mixed two person dinghy (spinnaker) – 470
- Women’s keelboat – Elliott 6m (format of racing TBC)
- Men’s 2nd one person dinghy – Finn
The underlying philosophy behind the decisions governing the Event’s Committee’s decision-making is to be found in the Olympic Commission report which we wrote about extensively earlier this year when we interviewed the Commission’s Chairman, Phil Jones. Read more about this here and here.
The observations and recommendations in the report compiled by Jones (left) and his Olympic Commission were based upon the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) published criteria determining what it looks for in sports in order for them to be included (or more specifically in the case of sailing, remain included) in the Olympic Games. Outside of the obvious aspects such as making the sport attractive to spectators, the television and media, and bringing equality in participation between men and women, there were less obvious aspects. For example high on the list of IOC criteria is the number of countries participating, but a vital point to understand is that this is not the number of countries that participate in the Olympic Games themselves, but the number of countries that COULD, which is an area where our sport at present scores poorly compared to say track and field with very low take up in for example Africa and South America.
“The report they have written is 64-65 pages long and it is very very detailed and it is very good,” says Carolijn Brouwer of the Olympic Commission's magnum opus. “They have gone back and said ‘what sort of disciplines do we need to make the sport more attractive?’ The gender equality issue is a very big one, the global distribution - so the continental and the regional qualifiers or events are really important. A very strong message is that it is not about what happens in the two weeks during the Olympics, because for example keelboats only get 13-14 country spots, it is about those 206 weeks outside of the Olympic Games that are the most important.”
A fear obviously was that in their characteristic style the ISAF would thank Phil Jones and his team profusely for all their hard work and then studiously ignore their findings. But according to Brouwer at last week’s ISAF Annual Meeting in Athens the Olympic Commission went to great lengths to make presentations to any of the multitude of ISAF committees willing to listen so that by the time the end of the week came and the big decisions were to be made by the main ISAF Council, everyone possible was in the picture. As a result after Jones made his presentation to Council on the final Friday and ISAF President Göran Petersson asked for a vote, the result was a resounding majority agreeing to adopt the Olympic Commission’s findings.
“The Olympic Commission did really well and need to be congratulated for the work they have done because they have worked extremely hard - you talk to Phil [Jones] and it has taken a lot out of him, the last eight months they have been working on this – it has taken up a lot of the whole group’s time,” says Brouwer. “The vote was really good. That was a big relief for the members of the Olympic Commission and they were really stoked with that result and I think they deserved to be.”
It should be noted that while at present among the Olympic sailing events there are ‘open’ classes [ie where both men and women can enter] – at London 2012 for example the Finn and 49er are both nominally ‘open’ as the Tornado was previously - these typically haven’t worked. Now for the first time, for mixed classes it will be mandatory to have a man and a woman on board.
“Open wasn’t even considered,” says Brouwer of how this unfolded in the Events Committee discussions. “It always get mentioned that you get some exceptions, which is me and maybe someone else, but generally it will still be a men’s discipline, so they have got rid of ‘open’ completely, which I find understandable.”
To us the introduction of mixed classes came as a surprise as over recent years we have been repeatedly led to believe that the IOC doesn’t like to mix men and women’s sports. And yet... “That is what I thought as well - maybe they have changed their mind in the last five years!” says Brouwer. However the IOC’s viewpoint was clarified when after the Olympic Commission published their report they met with the IOC and it was they who got the blessing for mixed classes.
“The message they got back is that they [the IOC] aren’t against mixed sport - if it suits your sport then why not?” says Brouwer. “They have just introduced mixed doubles in tennis and it is also practised in badminton and equestrian as well.”
That the IOC has given the green light to mixed sailing classes is fortunate as once again the sailing is under pressure to introduce new classes, in particular on this occasion from the kite surfing community.
By going mixed it has also allowed the 470 to stay in the Games for at present, while we view them as distinctly different craft, having the Men’s 470 and the 49er means that there are effectively two Men’s doublehanders in the Olympic line-up at present. “The skiff in the last few years has come out as a more media-friendly, attractive boat, so they have gone for that, which put the 470 in a difficult position and then they solved it by going mixed,” says Brouwer.
Male and female competitor numbers
In terms of reaching the IOC objective of parity between the number of men and women competing in Olympic sailing, the latest recommendations will be able to achieve that. The current proposal has four men’s disciplines and four women’s plus two new mixed ones. That’s seems even enough.
However there are several oddities. For a nation fielding an entry in every ‘event’ for Rio 2016 under the new format, their team will now comprise nine women and seven men, whereas for London 2012 it will be seven women and nine men. If this sounds like there will be more women sailors in Rio than men then bear in mind that each event has a different maximum number of entries. For Rio 2016 this has yet to be decided – all we know is that the maximum number of athletes competing is 380, as it is for London.
Then if you dig further then it becomes equally obvious that on a mixed doublehander typically it is the helm who is the small lightweight one and the crew on the trapeze who is taller, heavier and stronger to lend added righting moment to the equation and grunt when it comes to hanging on to sheets and hoisting kites. So it could be that both mixed doublehanders will end up with female helms and male crews, as demonstrated by the last examples of this in Olympic ‘open’ events with Brouwer and Godefroid on their Tornado in Athens and before them Cathy Foster and Pete Newlands on their 470 during the Los Angeles Olympics way back in 1980 – on both occasions the man was on the wire. Unless it is legislated against, then the result will be six of the ten events having female drivers.
This issue Brouwer reckons will have some bearing on the choice of equipment for the multihull. “There is quite a lot of mixed sailing going on in multihulls but the bigger the boat, the less mixed you are going to see, the smaller the boat the more mixed you are going to see.” So this would imply that the return of the Tornado is far from a certainty.
Mixed crews is an interesting development, is probably something that would be good to encourage throughout our sport, and is an attractive USP for sailing. Our only reservation is that if the Olympics is vaguely supposed to showcase the best our sport has to offer we can’t help feeling that in reality mixed crews are far from commonplace in dinghy sailing.
Brouwer argues that there are precious few mixed crews in the 470 because since 1988 they have had separate men and women’s classes at the Games. Certainly in catamaran racing there are more and, she adds: “then there’s the skiffs in the Youth Worlds which have quite a lot of mixed crews sailing because it is an open discipline and keelboat sailing around the world is mixed as well. So it is something that could suit sailing well.”
According to Brouwer another buzzword from the ISAF Conference, again a hand-me-down from the IOC via the Olympic Commission, was ‘diversity’. Effectively what this means is that rather than being worried about our sport taking place on the sea and the problems this brings (it makes it potentially one of the most expensive sports to televise for example), the feedback from the IOC is that this is a positive which we should be exploiting.
“It is like ‘your sport is different from all the other sports’,” explains Brouwer. “If you want to watch basketball or table tennis, etc it is always in a stadium. They [the IOC] said that what they enjoyed about the sailing - and I think it was mainly the IOC members who went to the Youth Olympics in Singapore - is that you get to go out on a boat on the water and it is a different environment to what a lot of other sports offer. And the message is that that is exactly what sailing should be encouraging and that is what makes sailing attractive. We are always comparing ourselves to other sports, and saying ‘well, they do this in Formula 1, so we should try and do that as well’, but the message was perhaps the opposite: ‘You guys are special because you are unique and that is what you should be encouraging.’”
But this diversity is not just how sailing differs from other sports. It is also being taken to read diversity between the sailing disciplines, says Brouwer. So for example the Elliott 6m has for some reason been kept in for the women, but as yet it hasn’t been decided whether they will be fleet racing or match racing them. For reasons of ‘diversity’, the fact that all the other events have fleet racing, Brouwer suspects will mean that the Elliott’s continued used for match racing.
“Everyone agreed that not all the 10 events have to have the same format,” says Brouwer. “Not everyone needs to do windward-leewards. Every different type of event can have a different type of format and that is the next step in making the sport more attractive.”
So different race formats are being encouraged. This may help the spectacle, but we suspect may do little to make the sport easier to understand.
As mentioned the events are to be finalised next May and before then we can expect some heavyweight lobbying particularly on the part of the 470, Star, board and kite surfer classes.
It should be noted however that following the Olympic Commission’s recommendations the decision on the events is happening considerably sooner than it has in previous Olympic cycles. Traditionally the the decision on the events is made at the ISAF Annual meeting five years out from the Games and the equipment finalised four years out. On this occasion the events are being decided upon six years out.
“That gives the time to do proper evaluation, so you have a window of two years rather than one year so manufacturers and classes and everyone that has an interest in that type of event can then bring forward suitable equipment for it, and there is more time.”
So the equipment for Rio 2016 will be finalised in November 2012. In the meantime there is a lot of evaluation to be done for the boards/kite surfers for both the men and women, the women’s two person skiff and the multihull.
Brouwer says it is probably that the women’s skiff could be announced before November 2012 since much of the evaluation was carried out prior to Beijing with a view to it being introduced for London 2012, until it was replaced with the Elliott 6 and women’s match racing.
“For the first part of their trials [for the Women’s skiff] we had very light winds so they have suggested a second part of the trials, to specifically focus more on the windier conditions. So it could be that if they hold those trials for example next year that they could make a decision then.”
According to Brouwer the racing formats for each class will be decided upon once the equipment has been determined.
A Finn, but no Star
So if the Olympic Commission’s recommendations for the equipment to be used at the Games must either help increase sailing’s ‘universality’ (the buzzword from their report – meaning the number of countries where sailing takes place around the world (the OC recommends a target of 140 countries by 2012, still modest compared to the IOC benchmark of 190) or its spectator/media appeal then it seems odd that the Finn should stay but the Star should go.
Brouwer says she found it surprising too and apparently during the voting at the Events Committee meeting the Star and Finn came out lowest in the voting and there had to be a run-off between the two. The voting process was reasonably complex with the proposed ‘events’ divided into groups of six of which four had to be picked. The first vote removes the lowest, so then there are five. The second vote removes the lowest, unless the lowest still have more than 50% of the votes, (we’re lost here too...) in which case the two lowest have their own ‘run-off’ vote. In the case of one group this run-off came down to the keelboat (Star) and the Finn with the majority then voting in favour of the Finn.
“I think that very last vote was a bit of a political, tactical vote,” says Brouwer. “It was what people sympathised most with.”
Nice one, Olympic Commission
Brouwer concludes: “I think the Olypmic Commission has done a really really good job of coming up with a report, with a vision and a strategy for ISAF of how to go forward and I think that was really positive. My fear was that people at this meeting would not respect it and not adopt it and therefore their mission would have failed and ISAF would have been back at square one. The fact that there was a lot of support for the Olympic Commission report, and that report obviously is noticeable in the submissions that were put forward and in how they were approved, it shows that people are happy to move forward and to make changes in the sport.
“If you asked me I would have liked it to happen more radically and more quickly, but I also understand that you can’t change ISAF as an organisation in one day. It is a very long process. But the message has come across quite well that people are happy to start making these changes.
“I guess for myself, sitting on the Events committee, we as a committee put through recommendations forward to the Council, and if an organisation works well, then the Council, who are the final decision makers, they should approve the recommendations of their expert committees. We sit on those committees because we are the experts in those particular areas of the sport so you would expect the Council to approve those recommendations but in the past that hasn’t happened and this time around, even though it was a tough decision and a big change it happened - the Events Committee recommendations were accepted in Council and I think that is a good sign.”