The Olympic Games are a strange old thing. A lumbering dinosaur of an event that is as much about money as it is about politics and there is lot of politics. Only 30 or so ‘sports’ are deemed to be worthy of having Olympic status, and one of them bizarrely enough is sailing.
Sailing’s inclusion in the Olympic Games is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it gives national governments in the search of Olympic glory a reason to invest in grass-roots promotion of the sport and give athletes help to train and make a ‘living’. On the other hand, being an Olympic sport makes ISAF a puppet of the IOC as it provides the bulk of the federation’s funding.
Since 2005, when the IOC decided that sailing should have only 10 medals allocated to it instead of 11, there has been pages of debate about which classes and types of sailing should be represented at the Olympics. All kinds of logic has been applied – but a look down the list of Olympic sports will show that there is rarely any logic involved.
While on the one hand, the games keeps alive archaic traditions like discus and wrestling, it also makes room for synchronized swimming and judo. Amongst the sailing medals is one for windsurfing, a once cool pastime now dying a slow death. There is absolutely no correlation between the number of global participants of a sport and the number of medals the old men of the IOC decide to award.
Whichever one of the 11 sailing disciplines was cut from the Olympic program, people were going to miss out. Athletes who had spent years training in a particular boat were going to miss out. For reasons that we are not going to go into here, the Tornado Catamaran was the boat to go.
Since then, many have seen the way forward as trying to get the 11th medal reinstated. This of course stops all the fighting and means that no hard decisions have to be made. Lobbying the IOC of course is a long, painful, expensive business with absolutely no guarantees of success.
Some say there are over 400 sports in the world. Sailing is ‘lucky’ to have Olympic standing at all, so arguing over whether there are 10 or 11 medals seems a little selfish. A sport like Golf with long traditions and which is played internationally by men and women would love to have a couple of the medals that sailing enjoys.
Little wonder then, that the powers that be at the IOC decided last week that they got it right in 2005 and that 10 medals for sailing was about right. The absence of a multihull at the 2012 Olympic Games then is not the IOC’s decision, but that of ISAF.
While some of the world’s top sailors choose to sail with more than one hull on one-off America’s Cup monsters or round-the-world record breakers or entertain thousands in extreme 40s or participate in Archipelago Raids, the 10 medals for 2012 will have one hull only.
ISAF didn’t come away from their lobbying empty handed though. While handing down the news last week, the IOC President confirmed that ISAF President Göran Petersson and HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, a member of the ISAF Events Committee, are amongst six persons to be nominated by the Executive Board as IOC Members.
So the sport of sailing continues as a strange multi-headed beast. On the one hand there is Olympic sailing in toy-like boats for king and country. Occasionally this strange political landscape will change to embrace new and exciting things from the other world, where new technology leads to innovative designs and tests of sailing skill. Make no mistake, without Olympic medals, sailing might receive even less government funding than it does now, but without the entrepreneurial vision of commercially driven racing, no-one will be inspired to get into a boat.