The SPA experiment


Andy Rice weighs up the pros and cons of some interesting innovations at the Dutch Olympic regatta
As well as proving a triumph for British sailing, the SPA Olympic Regatta can arguably claim to be one of the success stories of the small boat racing circuit. Many Olympic sailors say SPA is the best of the European tour because it is so well organised. It is also the most media friendly, with the organisers introducing a number of innovations that should be adopted on a wider basis. Then again, some sailors get frustrated with all the change, and couldn't care about the concessions made to making SPA a more media-friendly event. Well, love it or hate it, one man is clearly responsible for SPA's groundbreaking formula - event director Henri van der Aat (right). The Dutch Olympic team coach in the 1980s, he moved to ISAF to become events director and the events coordinator for the sailing at the Barcelona Olympics. These days, he runs a communications group called Trefpunt Sports and Leisure Marketing, which as well as its sailing interests has involvements in professional cycling and football, including advising sponsors Heineken and Amstel on the Champion's League. He believes sailing has huge commercial potential but doesn't allow itself to progress. "I think the sport has so much to offer but it doesn't do it, it stays in the old, conservative way. We used to experiment quite a bit in the races but we got criticism for that because people use these events as part of their Olympic trials. They don't like change, and in any case, the sailing world is so conservative that no one seems to like any experimenting in the sport. That frustrates me a lot. In my opinion you have to change things from the top down, because if you don't introduce change at these types of event, then the small events will never change." Past

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