Olympic classes up for review at ISAF meeting in Edinburgh

The behind-the-scenes lobbying for Olympic status has begun

Tuesday November 7th 2000, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
Machiavellian negotiations have already commenced in Edinburgh where ISAF is holding its AGM during early November. Representatives of national sailing organisations and international class associations are out in force, and the horse-trading to decide which existing Olympic class will make way for the new category of women’s match racing has begun in earnest.
The American delegation put forward a motion that three keelboats be selected for the Athens Games in 2004, effectively protecting the Olympic status of the Star and the Soling, traditionally two of the strongest classes for the United States. The motion was carried by a narrow majority, a decision that could spell doom for one of the dinghy classes. But as one anonymous observer commented, 'No one quite knew what they were voting for. If you didn’t speak English, then you didn’t stand a chance of comprehending the legalese they used to put forward this motion.' Even some for whom English is their mother tongue admitted afterwards that they were confused by the motion. And as the implications of the proposal have dawned on them, the reaction could backfire against the keelboats.

One class that knows how important lobbying can be at these meetings is the Finn, and manufacturers and Olympic medallists are out in force to protect the status of their beloved singlehander. The popular view is that the men’s 470 is looking the least likely to retain its Olympic status, although the 49er does not have a large lobbying presence to protect its interests. While the sailors and the public would give the two-man skiff a big thumbs-up, such logic can count for very little in this arena. Anything could happen - just like when the Flying Dutchman was ousted in 1992 - and even the Laser could go.

The sailboard is also up for review, with a play-off between the existing Mistral IMCO board and the Formula Windsurfing alternative. The Formula Windsurfing package offers the flexibility - albeit with added expense - of different rig sizes and perhaps even two different boards for different wind conditions. The advantage would be that in light winds, sailors could opt for an 11-metre rig that would provide enough power to negate the pumping advantage currently enjoyed by the fittest competitors. Of course, there is a philosophical question to be considered, as to whether fitness or sailing ability should be the primary test in sailboarding.

But the wider windsurfing world appears not to care too much about the Olympic scene in its current form, the IMCO board being a distant relative of the newer equipment currently in vogue. Whilst the sailors would probably vote for a more up-to-date option, the IMCO board retains a strong grip on the Olympic scene. The Formula proposal will do well to overcome the status quo in Edinburgh this week.

There is no doubt that ISAF has done much to enhance its management of the sport over the past few years, but the four-yearly dealings to decide which classes will win or retain Olympic status seem as murky as ever. Once a class takes its seat at the Olympic table, it takes a lot to get it out from there - even when there is an eminently more deserving candidate. Any Olympic discipline should be representative of the way that the wider sport is developing around the world. And yet the Laser - as perfect an Olympic class as ever there was - took over a quarter of a century to find its way to selection.

The 49er was the exception in that it was railroaded past the usual ‘democratic’ process to achieve selection within two years of the design being conceived. It was a bold move on ISAF chief Paul Henderson’s part to foist the 49er upon the Olympic scene, but who is complaining four years on? Only those with a different axe to grind.

Let’s hope that common sense prevails this time round, and that the decisions made in Edinburgh by the 50-odd representatives on ISAF Council reflect the exciting developments that are taking place in the wider world of small-boat racing - and not narrow vested interest.

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