Watch out keel boats

Olympic review for 2008 notes 'low broadcast and spectator appeal' in sailing events. James Boyd reports

Monday September 2nd 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Mediterranean
An official report reviewing the make-up of the events to be included at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 is recommending the number of sailing classes be reduced.

The Olympic Programme Commission has been tasked with looking at ways of rationalising the events that will form the 2008 Games. Commission Chairman Franco Carraro presented his report to the International Olympic Committee Executive Board in August, his recommendations based on the criteria such as participation and unusually for an event that has claims of corinthianism - media coverage and operational costs.

The 2004 Games in Athens will see an estimated 10,500 athletes taking part in 301 events in 28 different sports, but it will also be the first Olympiad in 20 years to include no new sports. The Commission's report suggests that the International Olympic Committee are not looking for any additional growth for 2008 and may even want to achieve the opposite.

'The Programme Commission has noted that there is currently no scope for increasing the framework of the programme, and in fact there has been a challenge expressed by the public and within the Olympic Movement to reduce the size of the programme,' the report states. It continues: 'Noting the large demand on new sports, disciplines and for additional athletes, the Commission underlined the fact that it is not possible to include all sports and all events within the Olympic Programme and for all athletes to attend the Olympic Games.'

The report goes on to say that sailing is being targeted because of its 'high quota' and number of events compared to its low broadcast and spectator appeal. They are therefore recommending that the number of competitors and/or classes be reduced for the 2008 Games. Specifically they have targeted the keelboat classes, the Yngling and the Star, because they are 'very expensive boats and demand costly infrastructure for Olympic competition and for general practice and development in comparison to other classes'.

Similarly under threat are swimming, shooting, rowing, badminton. New sports being considered for inclusion are golf, rugby and karate while futsal, whatever that might be, and women's boxing have been considered and given the thumbs down by the Commission.

Obviously any reduction in the size of yachting participation in the Games is a bad thing for our sport. "Our view is that there is still a lot of water to pass under the bridge before any firm decisions are made," RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park told madfor sailing. "And clearly we are in the position where we would like the number of disciplines to remain as it is."

Park confirms that the keel boat classes are the most expensive to run and campaign, but there are also cost issues at stake for the hosts. "The main issue is to do with the provision of marina facilities to do with the keel boats and all the official organisational support boats and coach boats. So there is a reasonable size marina required to house the number of boats." But Park points out that at the recent test event in Athens the number of participating boats were outnumbered to a factor of at least 2 to 1 by the official boats - although it should be pointed out that the Stars were not present due to their World Championship taking place in the USA.

At present the total number of sailors taking part in the Games is limited 400 with the 16 top nations represented in the Star and top 15 in the Yngling. So if the Commission's recommendations are followed this means these classes will either not take part in 2008 or will have their numbers culled. "It would be a sad day to see the number of athletes competing in the Olympic Games reducing any lower than 400," admitted Park.

For the RYA's part they are able to make representations to the IOC via the British Olympic Association and via ISAF. This will no doubt be the hot topic of conversation for the gentlemen in blazers at the ISAF conference in November. We shall wait and see.

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