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8 November 2009, 09:06 am
From Busan: John Longley On The Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships
John Longley
John Longley in Korea

ISAF Annual Conference 2009
Busan, Korea

John Longley, Event Director for the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, gives us an update on preparations for principal qualification regatta for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
At the ISAF Annual Conference in Estoril, Portugal two years ago, Perth, Australia was announced as host city for the 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships. Now two years down the line, Perth 2011 is just two years away, with over 1,700 of the world's top Olympic sailors due to arrive in Western Australia for the championship, taking place from 3-18 December.

Yesterday as the ISAF Annual Conference in Busan, Perth 2011 hosted a reception previewing the championship. Today we caught up with John Longley, Event Director for Perth 2011 to get the lowdown on Perth's preparations.

Two years ago Perth won the bid and now there's two years to go until Perth 2011. Could you tell us how the preparations are going?

It's terrifying when you say it like that as it seems like it was only a short moment ago that we won the bid! It's extraordinary really when you think about it; you say you've got four years to put together an event, you think that's going to be so much time. People ask, 'what do you do? you've still go two years to go, surely there's no pressure.'

Well there is a lot of pressure. There's so much to organize. A lot of the work we've done, really constructively, is to get the timelines going to detail every little job that's got to be done. When you start to do that you really start to get a view of the complexity and the size of the task at hand.

So I suppose one of our big achievements is to really get a grip on what we've got to do. We're now starting to put in place the staff that we need to get that underway. We're trying to attract really top people in all the various areas. An example of that is we've just appointed Richard Palfreyman as our media liaison. Richard is the number one consultant to the IOC in that area, so that shows the type of people we're aiming to attract.

I think the other thing we've done is that there's an enormous degree of support right through Fremantle and Perth. Slowly there's an awakening about the size of this event, the importance of it and the impact that it will have when we run it for those 16 days. We've brought the event into the heart of Fremantle. It was originally planned to be at the Fremantle Sailing Club but as we started to drill down into the detailed planning, and particularly after we finalised the ISAF contract and saw what we had to deliver, we realised at that point, that footprint was simply not going to be big enough.

Whilst Fremantle Sailing Club will continue to play a major role in the event, we've brought the venue into the heart of Fremantle and will be using many of the facilities built for the America's Cup. So it's going to be a different event in lots of ways. Fremantle is a highly visited destination, it's arguably the most visited destination in Western Australia. We have a rent-a-crowd that will come there on the weekends anyway. And Perth people love events. When they have the Redbull race there, three or four thousand people will turn up to see it even though they know nothing at all about flying aeroplanes.

Bringing The Championship To The Audience

One of our challenges is to make sure that, a. it [the championship] works for the athletes; b. it works for people who understand sailing, because they need to have a good experience, and c. for the vast majority, who are people who won't have a clue about the sport, so we've got to make it a good experience for them as well. We're developing plans to make sure our public village entertains and informs and also encourages them to go out to Bathers Bay and watch the races.

We're very fortunate in that the Medal Race course, which we'll also use for many other races besides the Medal Races themselves, is set up with the onshore Fremantle Doctor, the breakwaters around it and the beach at the eastern end, so that we can have literally tens of thousands of spectators around it if we're good enough to get them out there.

To do that, the educational aspects of the village have got to be really good. Secondly, I believe that radio is absolutely key to it. Radio is such an old technology -we all talk about Facebook and YouTube and the internet and so forth - but for the people who are there, they're not going to be walking around with laptops. They'll be walking around and enjoying the ambience from the place but we also need to explain to them what is going on. So we're going to invest quite heavily in our radio. We will be able to sell, very cheaply, to the general public small earphones and get really good quality commentators, with cutouts to the course, interviews, information about the sport and so forth. I think this will give us the opportunity to provide one of those legacies that are so important to an event like this - to actually bring the sport to a new audience.

Hopefully it will encourage people of all ages to say 'well I can take up sailing even though I'm 50 or 60'. And on the other hand, for parents to say, 'this is a really good sport for my kids to get involved in'.

One of the things we will be doing, is we have a small area around the northern end of the fishing boat harbour, which we'll activate with other sailing areas. We talking about radio controlled sailing, maybe some corporate sailing in Sonars, but also we thought it would be fun to have a mini Optimist regatta for 8-10 year olds, 10-12 year olds. So parents can come and see people aspiring to get into the Olympics out there on the water, but also see kids getting involved at the other end of the spectrum.

Obviously the key is the races for the World Championships and the Olympic qualification out on the ocean - we've got to make sure that works superbly for the athletes. But we've also got to make sure that back on the shore it works for the general public and for sailing generally.

What about spectators who won't be at Perth in 2011. How can they follow the championship?

We're working very hard on the television aspects and we aim to raise the bar significantly there. We're well funded to do the television. We're aiming at over 100 nations, all Medal Races live, daily packaged programmes going out. We're looking at acquiring quite a lot of distribution to make sure we get out into the nations that otherwise sailing might not reach.

We're also focussing at what the event looks like on the internet. Making sure you can follow the races through tracking, videos will be on the internet as well, and of course highly active webpages with results and rankings etc.

In terms of the athletes, what are the options for training at the venue?

Because we're effectively inserting this event into a public area, the boat parks we'll be using for the event will only open a couple of days before. But the Fremantle Sailing Club, which is the largest sailing club in Australia, is already accepting applications from sailors to come and operate there.

As they're a club, they are affected by licensing laws, so they're setting up a classification of short term membership, so if you want to go and train there for three or four months, you just buy one of those memberships and then you are able to bring your boat down and use the extensive facilities of the club.

Royal Perth Yacht Club also has its annex off Fremantle. Then there are areas a little further south, about 20 minutes drive away at Rockingham, which is a marvellous place to sail and train with good accommodation. Further south again, one of the fastest growing areas in the whole of Australia is Mandurah. Mandurah has a very good yacht club which hosted the national youth titles last year. The sea conditions are slightly rougher than Fremantle because it doesn't have protective islands, but if you want to go and train at the harder end of the world and come back to the slightly easier one, then maybe that's a good thing to do.

Are December conditions different to the months surrounding it?

December is the start of summer here, if you go back to spring time, September, October, November, in September you start to see the place starting to heat up and the seabreeze developing. You might get half a dozen of them [days with seabreeze] in September, 10 in October and by November you'd be expecting that 60-70% of the days will be classic seabreeze days. Then by December it's the regular Fremantle Doctor, as we call the seabreeze, but not as strong as you'll get in January or February.

The Emerging Nations Programme is a new initiative for this championship. You've hosted the first camp earlier this year and have the second coming up shortly. What kind of feedback have you received on the ENP?

It's funny when you invent something new. You try and extrapolate as to what it's going to be like and what impacts it's going to have. In this case, all of the things we were aiming to do have come off. In other words we have had a good take up from those nations who have got the athletes in the 200, 300, 400 Ranking slot and are most likely never going there [to qualify for London 2012 Olympic Games] without the support of Emerging Nations, because their not well enough funded or they don't have sufficiently good [training] conditions at home.

One of the great things we've found out about it is how the young sailors in Perth have adopted it. Suddenly you put in 12 interesting young sailors from all over planet aspiring to get in to the Olympics and most of them are in that 18 to 24 year old age group - all the local kids go, 'there all trying to get into the Olympics? Hey, why don't I try and get into the Olympics!' They're like bees to the honey pot! At the weekend regattas we've been running [as part of the ENP], even in the winter, 50 Laser just suddenly came out of the woodwork saying 'I want to go sail with these guys'.

It's great fun, I think it's a great thing for sailing and it widens the reach for nations trying to get into the Olympics. We reckon we've got a red hot go of getting two or three of those athletes actually to the Olympics, and that would be a big deal as they're coming from countries which have never been to the Olympics before.

Find out more about the ISAF Sailing World Championships past, present and future at www.sailing.org/isafworlds.

For all you need to know about Perth 2011 visit www.perth2011.com.

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