Following the appointment of the ISAF Olympic Commission, www.sailing.org spoke to chairman of the Commission Phil JONES to find out more about his new role...
The new Olympic Commission will report directly to the ISAF Executive Committee and is tasked with assisting them in 'developing, agreeing and promoting a comprehensive vision and strategy of the sport of sailing in the Olympic Games'.
The Commission is formed of six members, including the chairmen of the Athletes' Commission and Events Committee, and is chaired by Phil JONES.
JONES has been the CEO of Yachting Australia since 1997, which he joined after acting as ISAF's Olympic Manager and one of two ISAF Technical Delegate for sailing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Prior to this he had run his own sports management and marketing company after seven years spent at the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). During his time at Yachting Australia, the Australian Sailing Team has enjoyed contrasting fortunes, winning two golds, one silver and a bronze at Sydney in 2000, returning medal-less from Athens four years later, then picking up another two golds and a silver in Beijing last year.
The Commission is scheduled to hold their first meeting in Warsaw, Poland this May, during the ISAF Mid-Year Meetings. Before then we caught up with Phil JONES to get his views on Olympic Sailing…
Sailing.org: The Submission 082-08, which outlines the new Olympic Commission and the reasoning behind it, runs to five pages. Could you summarize why you believe the new Commission is necessary?
PJ: In short, the submission does two things. The first is to encourage the development of a strategy for sailing in the Olympic Games. The impacts of the decisions ISAF make about sailing in the Olympic Games are far reaching, particularly on our athletes. Currently various committees and groups within ISAF have an input into decisions regarding Olympic sailing without reference to any overarching strategy. We must have a framework that ensures sensible and consistent decisions are made.
Secondly the submission seeks to ensure that, once a strategy is agreed, any the decisions relating to the Olympic Games are made consistent with that strategy. We need to agree a clear direction for sailing in the Olympic Games, promote it and make sure we stick to it.
Sailing.org: 'Developing, agreeing and promoting a comprehensive vision and strategy of the sport of sailing in the Olympic Games' is a very wide ranging brief - where will you start?
PJ: Good question. The Commission has yet to meet to discuss the approach. I'll be recommending that we try and break the task down into the key areas that we need to address. These might be things like participation, events and equipment, media, event presentation and the like.
As far as possible I am keen to make the strategy evidence-based. That's going to be easier in some areas than others. For example, in terms of participation we've now got quite good data from the last three Olympic Sailing Competitions - what regions of the world the athletes came from, their weights, their ages, how many nations attended the qualification regattas in the various classes, how many were offered places and how many actually went to the Games and so on. From that we can look at some of the trends that are beginning to emerge. In areas like participation, that sort of data is going to be very informative.
At the other end of the spectrum, with issues like media and on-line opportunities, we're going to need to do some forward-thinking. We need to look both at what the sport is doing now, and also at the sort of changes that will impact on us in the medium to long term. We'll be looking what the environment might be like in five, ten, even twenty years time, so we can make decisions that position us to take advantage of the changes. This will involve consulting with people with expertise in specific areas of interest.
The opportunities for small boat sailing are really starting to open up. We see, for example, new tracking systems being developed. It's this kind of technology that is going to allow us to portray the sport in a more meaningful way as a competition. We can produce nice pictures, but if we're not telling the story, then we're not going to maintain people's interest.
Sailing.org: How will the Olympic Commission be different from the Events Committee and other ISAF Committee tasked with areas relating to the Games?
PJ: The Olympic Commission will work with other committees of ISAF, not replace them. In developing the strategy, the intention is to involve those committees that are making decisions about the Olympic Games - the Events Committee is obviously a key committee in this regard. We need to find effective ways to gain their input into the strategy and their endorsement for it.
Once the strategy is agreed and in place, the Olympic Commission will then work to ensure that decisions made by the various committees are consistent with the Strategy. This may well be a different group of people. That will be a decision for the Executive Committee when the time comes.
It's really a question of putting some longer-term framework around our decision-making that so we're not reactive, but rather we are planning our approach to sailing in the Olympics.
Sailing.org: There are so many different stakeholders involved in Olympic sailing, from the sailors and nations to all of the various organizing bodies, venues and classes. How will you manage to accommodate these different viewpoints within just six members of the Commission?
PJ: In my experience sailors are never slow in coming forward to tell you what they think!! The intention is that we develop the strategy taking into account the views of as many stakeholders as possible. At one level the ISAF structure affords MNAs [ISAF Member National Authorities] and International Class Associations the opportunity to provide input and feedback. However, we recognize that there are other views and we are keen to hear these as part of this process. We are still to work through what the best system or systems are for gaining this input.
To simply invite submissions is likely to create a flood of input that we won't have the time or capacity to work through. The intention is to put a draft out as soon as is reasonably possible. This will give a framework against which feedback can be provided. The draft strategy can then be modified or added to accordingly.
Sailing.org: The start of the London 2012 Games is already closer to three than four years away. What will the Commission aim to achieve between now and then?
PJ: The intention is to have the strategy well and truly completed and bedded down well before London, but honestly, I think the impact that it has on the 2012 Games will be limited. Some of the decisions about the Olympics are locked in when the bidding cities are decided seven years before the Olympic Games. Some things are already set for 2016 which the strategy will be too late to influence. This requires us to really think ahead if we want to make sure the big decisions are right.
Some things obviously can be influenced. Event presentation and television production are two obvious examples. Even then, the budgets for London are already set and I'm sure the organizers are under real financial pressure. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved in the short term.
Sailing.org: Finally, what is it that you believe makes the Olympic Games special and how important is the Games to sailing?
PJ: From the point of view of the pathway for our young athletes, the Olympic Games remains the ultimate sporting challenge, as it is in many other sports. In small boat sailing the Olympics represent the pinnacle, just as the America's Cup does in match racing.
I believe that sailing in the Olympics is central to our future - but we need to be careful. In trying to serve the media, the athletes and the other stakeholders, there is a temptation to compromise. The 'show' is important but does this need to compromise the integrity and fairness of the competition? Personally I think we can achieve both. What we have to ensure is that the competition is the best it can be, that it reflects sailing as we want to have it seen and that it is well presented. If we do this, and are able to communicate it effectively to the audience, all parties should be satisfied. Easy really!!
It is a great honour to have been asked to chair the Olympic Commission and I am grateful to the members of the Commission that are contributing their time and expertise. I look forward to the working with them and others in putting together a strategy for sailing in the Olympics. We should not underestimate the task!!