On Sunday 7 July, ISAF hosted a Sailors' Forum, led by a panel of top international sailors, coaches and administrators.
During the 2002 ISAF World Sailing Games, ISAF hosted a Sailors' Forum, with the aim of giving sailors, team leaders, coaches and any other interested parties the opportunity to provide feedback to ISAF on a number of matters effecting the sport. With an agenda identifying several key topics, those present were also invited to raise any other issues from the floor.
The discussion was led by a panel including Robert Scheidt (BRA) - 1996 Olympic Gold Medallist and 2000 Silver Medallist, and multi-world champion in the Laser Class, Alison Ball (RSA) - defending ISAF World Sailing Games World Champion in the multihull open event (Hobie 16), Gavin Colby (AUS) - current Hobie 16 World Champion, Alain Alcindor (SEY) - President of the Seychelles Yachting Association and 2001 ISAF Volunteer of the Year, Jane Moon (CAY) - ISAF Council Member, Secretary General of the Cayman Islands Sailing Association and sailing in women's keelboat event in Marseille, Victor Kovalenko (UKR) - elite level coach who was instrumental in Australia's double-gold medal victory in the double-handed dinghy events at the 2000 Olympic Regatta, and ISAF representatives, including Vice-President Fernando Bolin, Director of Sailing Jerome Pels and Development and Information Manager Luissa Smith.
ISAF World Sailing Games
A good crowd gathered to listen to the discussion, which opened with debate on the ISAF World Sailing Games - whether the event meets a need in the world of sailing, positive aspects of the event and changes which could be introduced for the future.
Gavin Colby (AUS) had the initial word and spoke as a first-timer at this event. He felt it was important to compete at an event representing your country, but which is not as elite as the Olympic Games, yet allows sailors to race against the best in the world. He felt the four-year time span is good, allowing a mix of sailors who have previously competed together with new-generation sailors at each consecutive event.
Alison Ball (RSA) endorsed Gavin's comments, and further expressed that she felt the mix of Olympic and non-Olympic classes was excellent.
Malcom Page (AUS) questionned ISAF's aims in holding the event. Vice-President Fernando Bolin expressed his opinion that there is a huge focus on the Olympic Games and Class World Championships, and he felt that once every four years ISAF should promote sailing by bringing the countries of the world together, with an open invitation to compete on supplied equipment, providing an international top-level event that was open to all.
Robert Scheidt (BRA), who was participating in the event for the third time, supported Fernando in that ISAF should hold this type of event every four years. However, as a Laser sailor, he had a few complaints, specifically on the boat rotation. Whilst the event is great, he felt the boat rotation should be re-visited to maximise the number of races that can be achieved.
Jerome Pels explained that it is a huge financial effort for event organisers to supply the equipment, and that in good wind conditions when racing can take place all day, the boat rotation works well. The aim of providing the equipment is to enable as many sailors as possible to compete on equal equipment, but that it was accepted that when the wind does not perform as expected [as was the case in Marseille], the rotation can prove difficult. In a response to a statement from the audience that the event was great, but there should be more boats supplied to avoid the need for boat rotation, Jerome Pels asked whether sailors would be prepared to pay a higher entry fee in order to subsidise the charter fee of the boats and have more boats available. However, there was no response!
Above all, there was support for the supplied equipment, especially from the smaller sailing nations who otherwise would not be able to compete, or who find themselves competing at events on chartered equipment which is invariably inferior. The ability to really match yourself against the world's best was felt to be a very strong attraction to the event.
Reigning World and European Champion and ISAF World Ranking leader in the 470 Class, Sofia Bekatorou (GRE), felt that the time availability for the rotation between the men's and women's fleets was not always sufficient. She also felt that as sailors are handing the equipment in after each day's racing, and know it is unlikely they will get the same equipment again during the regatta, they have a tendency to not care that much about the equipment, with many incidents of minor damage, which then impact on the next crew. She also felt that racing should have been allowed to take place in some of the stronger wind conditions experienced in Marseille.
In response to a question from ISAF on the type of equipment sailors would like to use at this event, 2000 Olympic Gold Medallist Belinda Stowell (AUS) commented that for them if a different boat than the 470 was used for the women's double-handed event, they would most probably not participate as their priority would be to their Olympic campaign.
Victor Kovalenko (UKR) supported the use of the 470, and the rest of the equipment at the event. He felt it important that the equipment is changed every day, so that countries can see that it is not the equipment that is winning the races, but the sailors, as demonstrated by the variety of results across the 470 fleet to date. For smaller countries it is really important that the equipment is equal, and as a result as seen at the Championship there are some new sailors at the top. For many sailors, this is the first time they have had a top 10 or top 15 result against such a strong fleet, which is very much down to the equal equipment, which in turn provides a tremendous incentive as sailors achieve such results at an international event.
The President had raised the issue of whether "Small one-design racing is decreasing, as the interest in boat handicap racing grows?".
Jane Moon (CAY) explained that in the Caribbean there is a series of big boat regattas raced on handicap system which are extremely popular and attract considerable international interest. Alongside such regattas, most islands have dinghy sailing predominantly in the Laser or Sunfish, and one-design racing continues to be extremely popular in the Caribbean and Central American region, primarily because the equipment is affordable and has longevity.
Alain Alcindor (SEY) supported Jane Moon, and went onto say that one-design racing in small dinghies is very often the only way for sailors from developing sailing nations to compete on the same level with the more developed nations. Such classes experience nominal changes to class rules and therefore the equipment doesn't change that radically. Without one-design small dinghies it would be virtually impossible for some of the smaller nations to participate. Whilst appreciating that the developed sailing nations would like more sophisticated equipment and faster boats, he hopes that ISAF will continue to support such classes.
There was some interesting response to a question from Fernando Bolin (ESP) as to whether it was felt that ISAF should do more evaluation tests with different types of boats suitable for the Olympic Games and change some of the existing equipment or remain with the status quo. Sylvia Vogel (AUT), competing in the women's double-handed event and ranked 79th in the world commented that she feels there is discrimination against women in the Olympics, particularly for media and sponsorship opportunities, as there are no classes like the 49er or Tornado where women can compete at a high-performance level. She explained that she has sailed the 49er for five years and feels it is unrealistic that women will compete in this "open event" in the 49er at Olympic level. She expressed her opinion that ISAF should consider introducing a mulithull or skiff class for women as the future of women's sailing and that doing so will help to attract sponsorship. Her comments received strong applause. In response Fernando Bolin said: "I asked the question, I have got your message and you can be sure I will transmit it."
Racing Rules of Sailing
Responding to the question of whether ISAF should police the Racing Rules of Sailing more effectively, Victor Kovalenko felt that if anything ISAF should do the opposite and that Rule 42 - Propulsion should be relaxed.
He felt that further restricting Rule 42 could be very dangerous for the sport and that propulsion should be permitted and used as an opportunity to showcase the athleticism of the sport.
Victor strongly spoke about the need for sailing to create an image of the sailor as an athlete and create heroes of the sport, and through such exposure promote the sport. He felt that if ISAF further restricts Rule 42, then the sport is losing an opportunity to clearly show how the movement of a sailor's body increases boat speed, and this is a way to help make the sport understandable to non-sailors. He felt that in other sports, viewers can see how the actions of the athlete effect his/her result, whereas in sailing this is difficult for non-sailors and the media to understand. He feels it should be clear how sailors can control their boats by body movement and playing with the sails, and that sailing should be depicted not only as a sport using the wind, but also the waves, and as such feels that propulsion should be allowed.
Victor spoke passionately about sailing opening its mind to take opportunities to promote the sport, and compared sailing to cycling. He explained that whilst sailing is more exciting than sailing, it does not seem that way to the spectator and the media. Cycling is much more interesting as the athletes' actions are visible, and the strain on their faces and exertions are clear. Sailing should look at itself in this way and review the rules to allow sailors to maximise their control and use of their boat via propulsion methods. Victor added that ISAF should be strong against cheating, but we should be more open to show the sport to the public and a good decision in this direction would be to relax Rule 42. Victor's comments received a tremendous round of applause.
Alain Alcindor felt that ISAF should decide whether to allow propulsion and then it would not have to be policed, but if propulsion is not allowed then the policing should be improved and more consistent.
Robert Scheidt responded that one of the problems in the Laser fleet is that the judging is not the same from event to event. At some events you can do what you want, whereas at others the judges are very strict. Whilst he did not feel that Rule 42 should be completely relaxed, as for example on a day with only 5 knots of wind, all sailors would be pumping and that is not sailing, he did feel there should be some relaxation. This should be combined with consistent judging, using people who know each class very well.
He expressed his dissatisfaction on the situation at the 2001 Laser Worlds in Ireland, where the rule of "three yellow flags and you are out" was introduced, which he did not feel was positive. He also felt that the current situation, where there are say three jury boats out on the water each watching 2-5 boats, which leaves the majority of the fleet unwatched, is unfair. As the sport becomes more and more professional, the need for the same level of judging across the fleet is imperative.
Fernando Bolin reminded everybody that sailing is a sport where race officials are volunteers, and unlike other sports does not have the money to pay full-time judges, and therefore it can be difficult to ensure consistency across all events.
Fernando asked for feedback on the concept of introducing a penalty system, where sailors who infringed the rules a certain number of times would then receive a soe form of penalty. Robert Scheidt responded that yes this could be an idea worth pursuing, and it would be preferable to a sailor being eliminated from a regatta, which he is totally against.
Feedback From The Floor
Darren Bundock (AUS), 2000 Olympic Silver Medallist in the Mullithull Open (Tornado) and Gold Medallist in the World Sailing Games multihull open event in the Hobie 16, expressed his frustration on the need for standard sailing instructions at all Grade 1 and 2 events. Currently, in the Tornado Class there are certain event rules, including minimum and maximum wind rules and time limits . However, at each regatta there is a new set of sailing instructions and certain rules get changed by the Organising Committee. Fernando Bolin agreed and felt that one of the problems in the sport today is that outside of those actually involved with the sport, it is very difficult to understand the sport, one of the reasons being that different events apply different rules with the game changing from event to event.
Jerome Pels further agreed with Darren Bundock, but also said that a problem for the Event Organisers is that multi-class events make it difficult for there to be one set of sailing instructions across the events, as all classes have different rules, for example different Rule 42 rules. He explained that the intention for the 2003 Combined World Sailing Championships (combined World Championship for the equipment used at the Olympic Regatta) is to have one set of sailing instructions, but that this is proving very difficult due to the varying needs of the classes.
Darren felt that ISAF should exert pressure on the Class Associations to supply standard sailing instructions and that the event organisers would then just be required to insert specific text, for example the colour of the marks, but that otherwise the instructions would not change from event to event.
ISAF responded to the question raised by Danny Mulyran (IRL), who asked why in Marseille the Race Committee had not allowed the boardsailing event to race in the stronger winds, explaining that as the equipment is Marseille was not full formula [usually in Formula you are allowed to have a choice of rigs and fins], this had effected the decision of the Race Committee. Jerome Pels agreed that every effort should be made in the future to enable the boardsailors to sail in stronger winds.
Christine Johnston (GBR), sailing in the women's boardsailing event, supported the Irish sailor's comment that racing should be allowed to take place in winds of 25 knots. Otherwise, Christine commented that she felt the event was very positive, and that the fifteen women fleet is the largest yet in a formula windsurfing event.
The Forum concluded with thanks to all who participated and an invitation for all to enjoy the ensuing party hosted by ISAF and the Organising Committee, with paella and sangria for all. Sailors then took to the dance floor to the beat of favourite 70's and 80's hits - a good evening.
What do you think on the comments made at the Sailors' Forum? Would you like to provide your input on the above? Or do you have an issue you would like to raise to ISAF? Have your say - email firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This report has been compiled as a summary of the discussion that took place at the Sailors' Forum on 7 July 2002. Please note that unless otherwise stated, the opinions in the above report are not those of ISAF.