Matthew Shea­han


Yachting World - - Contents -

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.


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