World Sailing Games preview
The 12-day event (29 June-10 July), sailed from the French Mediterranean resort of Marseilles, is being hyped by the organisers as the 'largest
international sailing competition of the year'.
With two entries per nation, per class (approximately 1000 sailors) it will be - twice the size of the sailing at the Olympic Games.
In line with the last two events in La Rochelle (1994) and Dubai (1998) all the boats and windsurfing boards are being generously supplied free of charge to all the competitors.
This is no doubt a boost to a number of poorer nations who suffer in expensive technology races.
The ISAF will award 11 world championship titles (not to be confused with class world titles) that will stand for four years.
Ironically though at the last ISAF November conference President Paul Henderson suggested the number of world championships should be whittled down, rather than increased.
So where does the World Sailing Games rate in the grand scheme of things?
Of the eleven classes - Laser men, Laser Radial women, 470 men and women, Hobie 16 men and women, J80 keelboat men, J22 keelboat women and Bic Formula windsurfing for both sexes - only three are Olympic disciplines.
If you're looking for an indicator of form for Athens, two years from the Olympic Games is perhaps too soon. The multi-Olympic class world championship at Cadiz in 2003, similar to the Worlds 99 event in Australia three years ago, will be a much better gauge.
"The pinnacle of dinghy sailing is still the Olympic classes which is why the worlds in Cadiz in 2003 is without a shadow of a doubt the bigger goal",
explained the RYA's Olympic Manager Stephen Park.
Great Britain will of course still be fielding a strong and determined team in France, defending (in part at least) the title of the top Olympic sailing nation in the world, as earned in Sydney two years ago
"It's still going to be a great festival of world class sailing and we're looking forward to it, as we do all major international events", added Park.
His goals for the event hinge on the overall team prize, where he would like Team GBR "to finish in the top three nations" as well medals in the Olympic classes.
There is nothing like a major contest on your door step to stir up some inspired performances so France will almost certainly be amongst the top few nations, while Park also rates the Spanish and Australians.
The selection procedure for Team GBR is not yet complete but some names have already earned their places through domestic and international results in the early part of this season or last year.
In the Laser class, Paul Goodison, who has carried over his impressive form from 2001, should have the chance to challenge for the title last held by Ben Ainslie.
Park quite rightly views him as a medal hopeful and denies the reduced number of entries will make it any easier for Goodison to win this world title rather than the Laser world championship.
"He [Goodison] finished fourth at the Laser Worlds last year and on the basis you are going to have two from each country racing in this event, the odds are it should be easier than a normal world championship. In reality all the good guys will still be there".
In the 470 class, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield are consistently amongst the best in the world at every competition. The second lottery funded team of Graham Vials and Dan Newman are snapping at their heels and improving with every regatta.
Due to the timing of the event, other sailors in the World Class Performance squad that may have well transferred classes to take part have been unable to due to commitments with their Olympic programmes.
The dates of the championship could cause other problems. The 1998 event was held in March, before the start of the season proper.
Marseilles is dangerously close - within a few days - to the end of Kiel Olympic classes week. A clash with a major European Formula windsurfing event also means that a number of leading board sailors will also be absent.
The Athens Olympic Test Event (pre, pre-Olympics) is a little over a month later.
However, those who can will surely attend. It is better to have the title of world sailing champion under your belt than not at all.