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ISAF President on Olympic sailing

Olympic Classes - ISAF President on Olympic sailing
ISAF HQ, UK-(12-10-2004) As I am not running for any office and do not have to worry about being politically correct I can openly say what I personally believe although really that never bothered me before.


Olympics should err on the side of `Talent not Technology`. The corollary of that is that it is the athlete that is important not the Class or Format. In fact the sailors will sail whatever class that is picked on the courses decided, and the best sailors still win no matter what ISAF prescribes. It is personalities that the Olympic Media wants, not the high-tech aspects or speed of the equipment. The Olympics are for individuals and are nationalistic.

Specific Observations

Sailing will be limited to 11 Events and 400 sailors for Quingdo. 4 Events will be for women and in practice the other 7 are for men although women could compete in the `Open` Events against the men. In 1996 the women's participation was 19% and in Athens was guaranteed to be over 35% which has been a major step forward.

It is essential that the equipment and accessibility to equal equipment should be a priority in at least 5 of the 11 events.


The new Windsurfing equipment for both men and women should be supplied. ISAF must work directly with the manufacturing facility to ensure the highest quality and distribution and not allow a marketing firm to control the Olympic Board. The Class must be run out from the ISAF Secretariat until the structure is able to stand alone.

Single Events

I believe this is the essences of the Olympics and if ISAF could find a way I would have four single events with one women's and one men's event having supplied equipment like ISAF does with the Laser which has continued to be the most popular Class in the Games even though it was conceived in Canada over thirty years ago. It should be noted that the Class has resisted any changes to the original concept putting the emphasis on the sailor rather than high-tech development.


I am a strong supporter of Cats as they must be sailed and Kinetics has very little effect. I would have two Cats one which is a simple off-the-beach class and possibly make it Mixed Doubles which would push women's participation over 40%.

Other Observations

Olympics are not meant to be representative of the total sport but are only meant to show a piece of each sport's spectrum. There appears to be NO move to replace any class except in Windsurfing. With 11 Events, ISAF can accommodate some classes where technology is a factor but the focus in at least 5 of the 11 should be on supplied, equal, simple equipment. The classes should be chosen where accommodating all sizes of sailor is the priority.

The Star and Finn are for heavyweights and Windsurfing for lightweights, Tornado and 49ers are for medium weights with the Yngling for a mix of weights. Match Racing was dropped as the result of ISAF Council voting to have the Star remain instead of the Soling. I look upon this as `Format` and is not a requirement for the Olympics although it did add to the promotion of the sport. Match Racing developed from and has as its pinnacle the America's Cup and most crews are multi-national.

Team Racing cannot be sold to the IOC until it is shown that it is practiced in 50 countries. Events which use multi-crewed `Formats` like Offshore or Team Racing are very difficult to add as they take up too many of the 400 slots allowed. It is therefore reality, at least for the foreseeable future that the Olympics will be for Fleet Racing.

TV Exposure

Sailing will not get more TV exposure in the Olympics because of the equipment selected as the Olympics focus on heroes and nationalism. This is coupled with the fact that there are so many sports (40) going on which must be covered. It is tough to get the National TV networks to pick up the feed and they only do so if their sailors are doing well and then only as clips. Sailing had great exposure on the Internet. In the future, NBC intends to have all sports accessed through Pay TV on dedicated channels.


The meeting in Copenhagen will be intense, as it is every four years, when the decision on Olympic Equipment is made which has much more impact on the sailors than who is elected to serve Sailing. Good Luck to both constituencies! regards,

Paul Henderson, President, ISAF†

Source: ISAF

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