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Paul Henderson: Sailing and the 2012 Olympics

To Fellow Buttheads:
I trust you will take the following biased opinion as being from a recently excommunicated "Pope of Sailing" and also a Member of the IOC. The IOC, in their wisdom, set the maximums for the 2012 London Games at 28 sports, 300 events, and 10,500 athletes. Here is what that means for sailing:

1) On sailing being kicked out of the Olympics:
Each sport is voted on by the 120 Members of the IOC, and it takes 50% +1 to remain Olympic. For the vote on events to be held at the London 2012 games, sailing received over 70% support. Of the sports that were dropped for 2012, Baseball got 35% and Softball 50% (missing the +1). Rugby 7's and Squash were voted on to replace the two deleted sports. However, they got only approx. 35% of the vote so were not admitted. The result is that there will be only 26 sports for London and a slot for 500 more athletes and two missing events. Several years ago a tabloid polled 100 of the movers and shakers of the Olympics who were asked the question: “What sports should remain in the Olympics?” Amongst these people, sailing ranked 8th, tying with Soccer out of the 33 sports, which included the "wanabees". By the way, Sailing is the sport the now IOC President started in as he rose up the IOC ladder. Long story short, sailing looks solid.

2) On sailing being promoted on TV during the Olympics:
Of the 28 sports, 14 get minimal TV. Sailing is one of them. Nothing sailing does will ever change this. Sailing is a participatory sport. However, Sailing was the number 5 sport in Olympic hits on the Internet. That is our medium and to prostitute the integrity of the sport for some "pie-in-the-sky" TV dream is ridiculous.

3) On sailing needing more countries competing in the Olympics:
Sailing gets close to 60 nations, which places it in the top half of the 28 sports. Sailing has had over 20 countries win medals in the last several Olympics, which is excellent, and shows how broad-based our sport is. This statement has many facets, as sailors must be sent by their National Olympic Committee (NOC). The Sailing authority has little power, including US Sailing Assn (USSA) and the Canadian Yachting Assn (CYA). Many countries have much more restrictive policies than the ISAF standard imposed by the IOC. While USA, by an act of congress, must send any athlete who qualifies (after years of fighting Canada also), many European countries will not send a competitor unless they are ranked in the top 8 countries. Even if you have 40 countries allowed in the Laser, it does not matter to the Europeans. If you are not in the top 8, you’re not going. How many countries can you fit into the top 8?

The emerging countries have difficulty qualifying at major regattas, so ISAF fills with these countries. I personally took on this responsibility to take the flak. The truth is that if a sailor could get their NOC to send them, then we could find a slot in the Laser and Boards. In the other classes, possibly only one competitor in each class was ever discarded. At 400 sailors and 11 classes, it was a minor inconvenience.

4) The 2012 Games: 10 Events, 380 sailors and more Women:
ISAF received the 11th event for 2000, which put the Star back in with the agreement that the event would be used in Athens 2004 for the Women's Keelboat. ISAF agreed that we would go back to 10 for London 2012. There is really no need, but the IOC is holding ISAF to the agreement (too bad for the UK - the premier sailing nation). Dropping 1 class and going down from 400 to 380 really means each remaining class gets more, as each of the now 11 events has each more than the 20 sailors deleted. In Savannah 1996, the women were at 19%. The IOC demands each sport be over 30%. In Athens 2004, sailing had over 35% women. Sailing is hitting this target, and any class changes will not be touching this requirement.

Having pontificated on the above, lets get to my bias on the classes. Sailors sail boats and that should be the criteria, not the equipment (classes). People and the sport should be the focus. ISAF does not pick classes per se. The classes are only the equipment used in a specific event. Sailing, like most sports, dictates the size and shape of the athlete done by the equipment selected. Sailing must pick the classes that allow sailors of all size and gender to compete. Singlehanded sailing is very restrictive on the size of the sailor as it dictates a narrow band of physique. I am also accused of being adamant that the sport is "Sailing" not "Air Rowing" (as the boardsailors do). Justifiably so! Therefore I would consider the following for the 10 classes:

1) There must be 4 classes where the women can compete: Single, Double, Keel, Mixed Doubles.
2) The Finn, Star, Women's Keelboat must remain so as to have classes which are geared to larger body shapes.
3) Cats and Skiffs should be sailed as Kinetics is of minimal help. Sailing is the sport! I would have a skiff for men and another for the women. I would also have two Cats - one high performance and the other mixed doubles.
4) The Laser is unchallenged for men and women.

If there are any slots left then let others, and they will, decide. There is another issue that must not be forgotten. Sailing is one of the Summer Sports, which is accessible to the disabled in the Paralympics. It is essential the keelboats remain so the facilities are in place for these wonderful, challenged sailors.

Paul Henderson
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