Who Should Pay for the British Keelboat Academy?

One of the themes that comes out time and time again in the sport of sailing is the lack of identifiable career progressions and event hierachies. The world governing body, ISAF does a good job of looking after the Olympic classes, but development of sailing talent for things like offshore racing or ‘big boat’ sailing is less structured. (Well, we say that, but actually, in places like France there is a quite well understood progression… )

[cleeng_content id=”419640132″ description=”99 cents or 10,000 hours. The path to being an expert can be easy or hard. ” price=”0.99″]Unlike many other sports, sailors are able to be competitive at an age where most other athletes have retired and taken up commentary positions. The Volvo Ocean Race has had to mandate that in the next race three crew must be below the age of 30, which might sound like a ‘youth friendly’ position, but not many brand managers would consider 30 being youth.

So how does the sport develop young talent who are not on the Olympic path? The RYA and UKSA’s British Keelboat Academy is an interesting concept.┬áLaunched at the end of last year, the programme aims to create the next generation of UK competitors for the Volvo Ocean Race, America’s Cup, Audi Med Cup etc. The program has developed out of a previous program that have developed an alumni of UK sailors who are now successful at the top level of the sport.

It’s an interesting idea, but the programme is dependent on commercial sponsorship and the goodwill of private benefactors for funding. The Academy is getting great support from the Alumni and many other parties, but there is no certainty for the program after this trial year without additional external funding.

There are some large structural issues that make developing a program like this difficult. Sailing is becoming less and less nationalistic, therefore there is not the same value to the country in developing a UK sailor who might then go on to sail on a ‘Spanish’ team in the Volvo Ocean Race as there is developing a Rugby or Cricket star who goes on to represent the national side. We were going to use the example of British F1 drivers having a positive effect on the country’s national psyche, but Hamilton and Button in recent years were driving for UK based teams (albeit with German and Japanese engines).

If the long term goals of programmes like the Keelboat Academy is to produce enough elite sailors to create UK teams, then the backers of those UK teams must buy into the concept now. Up until now, teams have not had the longevity of football clubs or motor-racing teams. Traditionally, sailing teams have come together for a single event and then disbanded.

With the creation of super-teams like Emirates Team New-Zealand, Alinghi and TeamOrigin perhaps there is scope to create development squads or ‘B Teams’ to create long term stability and continuity. The development of talent for the future would give sponsors more confidence in the long term success of a team and help the sport in general.

With TeamOrigin scheduled to compete in the Audi Med Cup, World Match Racing Tour and Louis Vuitton Trophy, they have the most to gain from a pool of world class UK talent.

We’ll be watching the Keelboat Academy to see how it gets on in 2010.[/cleeng_content]