REPLACING THE FINN WITH A TWO-PERSON OFFSHORE CLASS FOR THE OLYMPICS IS A GREAT IDEA, BUT THERE ARE MANY HURDLES TO OVERCOME
There is nothing quite like the threat of dropping an Olympic class to fire up a debate among sailors. And when it comes to picking a fleet to be axed, you might think that the oldest designs would be the easiest – yet this rarely seems to be the case.
Remember the commotion when the Star was faced with the chop? Now it’s the Finn, except this isn’t a debate at all, it’s a fait accompli. It’s gone, or at least will be after Tokyo 2020.
While some may be ambivalent towards the departure of a boat that looks as modern as a pair of brogues, the Finn’s departure will make way for a fascinating new chapter as offshore racing enters the Olympics from 2024.
It was decided at the World Sailing Conference in Sarasota last month that a 6-10m long, non-foiling keel boat with a spinnaker, to be crewed by a male and a female, will be a new class in the sailing Olympics in Marseille come 2024. It’s easy to see how this plan may tick plenty of boxes.
For starters, it allows the Olympics to take the final step towards gender parity across the Olympic fleet. So long as the boat isn’t a lightweight flyer that will require hiking, it takes crew weight out of the mix, too.
Short-handed offshore sailing is very much in vogue with owners drawn by the ease with which a crew can be mustered and managed, along with the satisfaction that comes with being the helmsman, navigator, trimmer and tactician through each and every watch.
Add to this the prospect of being the only Olympic discipline to run overnight and over several days through the Games, and providing a fly-on-the-wall, Big Brother sporting show for television, and there’s plenty to recommend it.
Live tracking and onboard cameras that allow the public to get on board during the event would present a unique insight into an Olympic discipline and perhaps create greater understanding and wider appeal for our sport. In short, it could make sailing cool.
But the move won’t be without its challenges.
For a start, what boat will be used and will it be supplied? Inclusivity is at the heart of the Games. Introducing an expensive offshore machine will present a barrier to many nations that simply can’t afford it.
Supplying one might be an answer, but who is going to pay for a large fleet of identical boats spread around various worldwide locations? It’s difficult to imagine a manufacturer putting a hand in their pocket to fund this.
Some, like Royal Yachting Association’s director of racing, Ian Walker, believe that the decision about the boat should be left until the last possible moment.
“The minute a class is announced things get expensive,” he said. “To my mind the only way of really containing the cost is to not announce any equipment because that would just mean it’s the event or the discipline that’s important. It would be impossible for the bigger nations to go out and purchase a fleet of those boats and set up academies and training because if you don’t know what the boat is, you just have to concentrate on the discipline itself and the skills that lie behind it.”
There’s the issue of places as well. If the Finn takes up 20 Olympic competitor accreditations, a two-person boat will halve that to ten nations with the chance to compete. Then knock off one for the host nation, which gets in anyway, and you are left with just nine places up for grabs.
When it comes to the racing, should an Olympic medal depend on a single race? Is a coastal race fair if it’s in the Mediterranean in the middle of summer when the breeze frequently shuts off at night?
And then there’s the issue of rules compliance offshore. How will organisers effectively police a race when so much is at stake?
As with any major change there are plenty of hurdles to overcome and a great deal of scope for debate. But as yet, and in contrast to the norm, I’ve yet to hear big resistance to the idea.
And for what it’s worth, the concept gets a thumbs up from me.
‘WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR A LARGE FLEET OF IDENTICAL BOATS?’