British sailors react to ISAF's selection of 2004 Olympic classes

Olympic sailors are divided over the impact of rejecting match racing

Thursday November 16th 2000, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
Soling match racing - goneYou can't please all of the people all of the time, and never was a truer word said about ISAF's selection of the Olympic disciplines. As madforsailing discovered when we quizzed some of Britain's Olympians over last week's momentous decisions.

Shirley Robertson said she was quite happy with the ISAF decision for women's fleet racing in preference to the original move for match racing. 'I'm far keener on the idea of doing a fleet racing campaign rather than turn round in circles for the next four years,' she told madforsailing. 'In match racing the medals are often decided by a third party [the umpire] and I don't think that is the way the Olympics should go. I don't think it was watched by that many people at the Sydney Games, and it has not achieved its original intention of attracting the big match racing names into the Olympics.'

Britain's two-time Soling representative at the Olympics, Andy Beadsworth, was not so happy about match racing being given the heave-ho, not least for the fact that, 'I've now got a big lump of fibreglass that's become virtually worthless overnight.' But he was not sure whether or not the decision was right for the sport. 'I play the game, someone else sets the rules, and I leave it to them to make those decisions,' he said.

However, he questioned the process that led to the 49er being put up against the Soling. 'Why it came down to a choice between those two boats I don't understand. Sailing is accused of being a complicated sport to understand and it seems to me that the way they go about selecting the Olympic classes only adds to that confusion.'
Andy Beadsworth's middleman Richard Sydenham was all set to embark on a new Soling campaign as helmsman, with Jim Turner and Ian Budgen crewing, but those plans are now in tatters. 'I am shocked, surprised and disappointed at the decision,' he told madforsailing. 'I think they have removed a part of the sport which accounts for a lot of money and publicity in the sailing world.'

Sydenham said his first reaction was to go out and get a 49er instead, but he is now weighing up the options of earning a living from the big boat scene. 'I want to see if I can make money out of sailing, but also to keep my hand in with some dinghy sailing. I really miss club racing, so I might get an RS400. It's good for your sailing to keep up the dinghy racing.'

Adrian Stead, who crewed for Beadsworth in Savannah at the 1996 Games and also won the Chernikeeff National Match Racing Championships with his old Soling skipper last month, believed ISAF may have been right to reject match racing from the Olympics.

'It is a very specialist part of the sport, and it doesn't really televise that well,' he said. 'Admittedly the backdrop of the Opera House was phenomenal this time round, but I wonder if match racing is better confined to the professional Swedish Match-type circuit.'

Whilst he might have agreed with ISAF's favouring of fleet racing, he questioned the decision to create an extra discipline for women at the expense of one of the keelboat categories. 'I think they have created a situation which is very misrepresentative of the sport. There are now four of the 11 Olympic disciplines being contested by women, but I am not sure there is that high a proportion of women competing at this level.

'It is a shame that a men's keelboat class had to make way for the new discipline because that means there are now only two places in a keelboat available for the men in an Olympic team - keelboat racing is a huge part of our sport and it is now grossly under-represented.'

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