The structure of sailing as a sport is largely determined by the fact that it is an Olympic event. Investment, training and elite athlete programs are geared towards the pursuit of gold medals in an almost arbitrary range of dinghy classes. For most non-Olympic disciplines, it’s harder to identify new talent and develop the future elite sailors (single handed offshore racing being an exception).
With the announcement of a new era in the America’s Cup, where nationality rules may be introduced for crew, development of non-olympic sailors is starting to be lo0ked at. In the UK, the British Keelboat Academy has been relaunched with an eye to creating the America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race competitors of the future, but elsewhere, non-Olympic sailing has been identified by governments as a way of not just developing talent, but national pride.
This week, Malaysia announced a development plan to help develop the nation’s sailing fraternity and raise its international potential on the professional yacht racing circuit. The new initiative, spearheaded by Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Dato’ Ahmad Shabery Cheek, is aimed at accelerating the progress of local athletes in the sailing arena and propelling them towards international sailing events. These prestigious global yacht racing events include the ISAF World Match Racing Tour (WMRT), the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup as “Special Events” in the sport as sanctioned by ISAF (International Sailing Federation).
The athletes enrolled on the programme will have access to the world’s top racing events that will also provide the most intense test of a sailor’s character.
This new professional sailing programme for Malaysia is of particular importance for talented sailors looking to move into more professional and challenging yacht racing disciplines. Currently, the country supports a healthy following of sailors in the Optimist, Laser and 470 dinghy classes. Dinghy sailors are regular competitors with support of the Malaysian Yachting Association in the SEA Games, Asian Games and the Olympic Games.
Malaysia has identified the big void of talent when it comes to racing in keel boats and on the professional world circuits. Dato’ Shabery agrees that this situation is due to the lack of a planned development route that sailors could follow and move up to the professional global circuit.
The Sports Industry Division of the Malaysian Youth and Sports Ministry is to be commended for bringing forth the idea that a dynamic programme is needed, where amateur sailors will receive high level coaching. Currently Malaysia is focusing on the medal sports but I would like to one day, see our athletes taking part in professional sailing events such as the ISAF World Match Racing Tour and possibly the America’s Cup”.
Dato’ Shabery informed the media at a press conference that the programme will involve an initial four-year plan which will see the participation of 10 athletes. This programme will run closely with the organisers of the Monsoon Cup, the final event of the WMRT.
“We will work closely with the organisers of the Monsoon Cup as they have the expertise to train and provide opportunities to our sailors. They are delighted to support the programme as it fits in nicely with their own development work which they have been carrying out for the past several years.”