Too many unanswered questions in Women's Olympic match racing proposal?

Trouble ahead at Edinburgh AGM?

Tuesday October 31st 2000, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
Women's match racing is due to be ratified as the new Olympic discipline at the ISAF annual general meeting in Edinburgh in early November. But one well-informed source says the whole process has not been fully thought out. It was pointed out to madforsailing that with a maximum of 400 sailors allowed to compete at the Games, it would make sense to pick a three-person boat rather than a four-person. But there are no obvious candidates - the H-boat is perhaps the only one.
Our source added that other important questions don't seem to have been addressed, like how the circuit will be run. Do you make it part of the usual Olympic circuit - Hyeres, Spa, Kiel Week and so on - with a designated class and a boat that you must buy and trail around yourself. Or do you ride on the back of the men's professional match racing circuit - the likes of the Swedish Match series - where you turn up and compete in the yacht club's local fleet of keelboats? Fundamental questions, to which there are no answers yet.

Cordelia Eglin, Britain's top-ranked women's match racer at fourth in the official ISAF world rankings, favours going with the professional circuit already in place. "They should nominate a four-man crew for the Olympic sport, but not nominate the boat - because there is no obvious candidate for the job. They should let the existing match racing circuit develop. Then 18 months down the line they could nominate the boat. It wouldn't matter if we didn't know what the boat for Athens was until quite far down the line."

Like Eglin, Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson is due to compete in the Rolex ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship in St Petersburg, Florida, at the end of November. But asked whether or not this is a build-up towards Athens 2004, and she will not say. For her, it is a low-key event, a chance to have some fun with some friends.

But she too, is not happy with the seeming lack of direction for this new Olympic discipline. "It's not been well thought through - there's not a three-man boat that fits the bill. You could say, let's have a three-man boat but keep the match race circuit as it is. But that would mean having to run a four to six-man team, and dropping some of that team from your Olympic circuit racing in the three-man keelboat. There's no obvious answer at the moment."

madforsailing's source predicts that Edinburgh will see women's match racing get the Olympic thumbs-up, but that any further decisions about specific boats or circuits will be delayed. Of course, an existing class has to make way for this new discipline, and the 470 men's class is hotly tipped to be the sacrificial lamb.

But there is an irony here, with our source commenting that 470 women's racing is struggling, riding on the coat-tails of the 470 men, who perhaps get 100 teams at a world championship as opposed to only 40 women's teams. Could a full Olympic-level world championship be run for just 40 boats, without the benefit of all the additional support of coaches and other staff that come with the men's event? Could it be that by introducing a new women's event, ISAF are in danger of stifling an existing women's class? It's going to be an interesting week in Edinburgh.

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