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21 December 2004, 09:57 am
New Man At The Top
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Göran Petersson

At November's ISAF Annual Meetings in Copenhagen, the election of a new President culminated in a two horse race between Belgium's Sadi Claeys and Swede Goran Petersson, the competition eventually being won by the 62 year old Gothenberg-based lawyer and ISAF committee veteran. The following interview is reproduced with kind permission of
Petersson's CV is lengthy both on the water and in sailing administration and he comes to the post with huge knowledge of our sport but particularly of the mechanism behind ISAF.

Personally he is a former Swedish 505 champion and has been racing Dragons in his home waters since the 1970s. As a sailing administrator he first sat on the Swedish Sailing Federation's Rules Committee back in 1977 and has been involved with the Olympics since 1980 and the America's Cup since 1983.

Thedailysail caught up with Petersson at the weekend...

thedailysail: How long have you been involved with ISAF?

Goran Petersson: Since 1978. I came to the Racing Rules Committee first as a member. Then I became Vice-Chairman of that committee and later Chairman and then I became Vice-President of ISAF.

tds: When did you become Vice-President?

GP: In 1994 together when Henderson was elected I was elected. I am the only survivor from Henderson's election!

tds: You are an international judge - this is an area of the sport you appear to have specialised in?

GP: I have been dealing with that as a judge and umpire for all the years since the programme started but I am not a measurer, and - although I know quite a bit about race management - I am not a race officer. I am just a sailor…

tds: How do you get elected President of ISAF

GP: Basically you have to persuade enough Member National Authorities to vote for you. You have to make up your own mind whether you want it and whether you think it is possible or not. This [ISAF] is a worldwide operation and it is quite complicated nowadays, so you better have quite a bit of information, knowledge and experience of an organisation like this and the top management of international sport, because it is politics.

So I started off by thinking whether I could do it, and whether I would like to do it and whether I would have time to do it. I thought that was possible - all of it - and then you have to find about whether you have support around the world. So you have to talk to a lot of people and I did that. You have to meet a lot of people, but if you have been involved for so long most people know you. So I had a good start and learned a lot as my time as Vice President. But it has become a campaign. I'm not sure I like that very much but that is the way it has developed.

tds: There is a shortlist?

GP: The process is that five member national authorities must write to ISAF and nominate you for the office of President. It is the same for Vice-Presidents. And then after that it is just a straight election. You have to beat all the others

tds: How much did you win by?

GP: That is not official, but I think it was a reasonable amount.

tds: How long is the tenure of the presidency?

GP: It is four years. It is between Olympics. So I am President until the November after the next Olympics. Henderson was President for 10 years because in the middle of his term we changed from having a term that started in the middle of an Olympic four year period to being the same as the Olympic period. So that is why Henderson sat for 10 years instead of eight.

tds: Does four years give you enough time to do what you want to do?

GP: The idea was that the incoming executive, not only the President, should have enough time to prepare the Olympics which of course is a very important event for us along with the relations with the IOC.

tds: Obviously the preparations for the sailing side of the Beijing Olympics were made in Paul Henderson's time

GP: We have two test events. The first test event will be in 2006. If you were elected in 2006 it would be after the first test event. But one should remember we are not only dealing with the Olympic sailing.

tds: But that is the main thing

GP: It is publicly and financially a very important part of our sport. You realise that if sailing was not an Olympic sport the attention and interest the sport would attract would be much less.

tds: But the money from the IOC is important to ISAF

GP: That part only became important in the last 8-10 years. It was not very important before that, but the prestige and attention that Olympic events and Olympic medals bring to the sport and because of that the attention and interest of young people.

tds: At present there is some debate about the 2008 Olympic sailing venue. In Athens there was a lack of wind and there looks like being a similar if not worse problem in Qingdao. What is your opinion about that and can anything be done at this stage?

GP: We have no influence in where the event will take place. That is completely IOC business. We have of course expressed our opinion about it. I know people are talking about the wind or lack of wind. We don't know that. We know for sure there won't be a lot of wind. But you remember in Athens we had strong wind in the first week. We even had to abstain from racing one day because of too much wind.

tds: How was the decision to go to Qingdao made? Presumably that was part of the Beijing bid and then ISAF made their recommendations to the IOC about whether or not it was a good venue?

GP: It is exactly as you say. There is a package from each candidate city. Then we are given the opportunity to have a look at the place and say whether the plans and the conditions are reasonable for us, whether we can accept it or not, and we of course have done that. But you realise that it is very difficult - it has to be something really important for you to say no.

tds: And obviously at this stage it is too late to change…

GP: I don't think it can be done. If we had more wind than people think we will have - it will be fine. And we have to prepare for what we have got.

tds: People are wondering why there? For example it would be a good opportunity for China to showcase Hong Kong, which does have better wind characteristics

GP: That would be much different, but we haven't been asked that question

tds: The problem is that the perception of Qingdao is that there is going to be no wind and so that is not much of an incentive for Olympic sailors to go there.

GP: That might be, but I don't think it will be as bad as people are saying. It is a long way and we will find out during the test events what it will be like. Olympic sailing and Olympic competition is very important for sailors, sponsors, for everybody. So I am not worried about that.

tds: So you are confident the event will be a success?

GP: We will do our absolute utmost to deliver a very good event for the sailors and the organisers

tds: Looking back at Paul Henderson, obviously you worked closely with him as Vice-President - what is your opinion about his achievements?

GP: He was a very strong person. He had an incredible knowledge about the sport. This was his life's duty, his life's task and he worked very hard to change things. He made, or we made, a lot of progress in certain areas at least, like the finances that have been completely tidied up and are in very good shape now and we have the website which I think is a very good website. And the development of the Olympic classes and Olympic sailing and the judges and umpires, all those systems. There are a lot of things. He was a strong voice and a well-known voice of sailing.

tds: You worked closely with him - were there any particular of these projects you were involved with?

GP: I was involved with the development of the rules, the umpires and judges. At some time I was responsible for the finances. I am a lawyer by profession and there were some things to do with my background… I was always responsible for the Olympic regatta. I have done that in Atlanta and Sydney and I have been Chairman of the International Jury for the Olympics, so I dealt with these type of things.

tds: Paul Henderson was known for his hard-headed blunt style and wasn't afraid to push his views through. What kind of style will you have as President?

GP: I will be as human as a human being, but very decisive in action when decisions need to be made. I will stress co-operation and teamwork because I think everyone in the executive should contribute and we should use all the knowledge and contacts and effort that can be taken from the executive, from all members of staff, and all committees and everybody. We are serving the sport, the classes, the sailors and everyone. Teamwork will be my difference. It is not a one man show.

tds: Who are your Vice-Presidents?

GP: There are seven Vice-Presidents. I have David Kellet, George Andreadis, Nucci Ceppellini from Italy. The rest [Fiona Barron, David Irish, Teresa Lara and TP Low] are newly elected. It will take a little time for them to get accustomed.

tds: How often do you meet?

GP: We have scheduled meetings four times a year. Twice at the same time as the council and then we have two extra executive meetings and I will meet people as needed. As part of the teamwork schedule I will meet them in their work from time to time as needed.

tds: Is this a full time job for you?

GP: I hope not. If you want to run it yourself of course it can take as much time as you want. It can easily take all your time. I would guess together with a very professional staff it would take about half your time. That would depend. In an Olympic year when the Olympic qualifications are going on and the Games are prepared then it will be almost full time and that will be alright.

tds: Do you still practice as a lawyer?

GP: At the moment I do but that will gradually go down
James Boyd
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