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14 January 2008, 02:41 pm
Interview With The New ISAF Secretary General
Jerome PELS at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships
Jerome PELS at the Opening Ceremony of the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships

ISAF Secretariat

Jerome PELS, the new ISAF Secretary General, reveals his thoughts as he takes on his new role.
Jerome PELS became the new ISAF Secretary General on 1 January 2008. He has been at the ISAF Secretariat for over ten years, prior to which he enjoyed great success coaching and managing the Dutch Olympic sailing team. (Click here for more background on Jerome and his involvement with ISAF and sailing.)

As 2008 got underway, www.sailing.org took the opportunity to put some questions to the new man at the helm of the ISAF Secretariat.

Could you explain exactly what the role of the ISAF Secretary General is?

The International Sailing Federation is formed of members and the national sailing authorities, known as the Member National Authorities or MNAs. Every four years they elect the ISAF President and Vice-Presidents, and the members appoint their represetatives to the ISAF Council . The members of the ISAF Committees are also appointed at the time of the elections and they all carry out their work as volunteers.

My role is to head the ISAF Secretariat, the team of professional staff in Southampton, that supports the hundreds of volunteers from all around the world involved in the ISAF Council, Committees, Commissions and the ISAF Race Officials.

The key function of the Secretariat is to work with the ISAF Committees to implement their decisions. The Secretariat is also ISAF's contact for the national Sailing Federations, sailors and classes, as well as being responsible for the day-to-day running of ISAF's core activities, like the anti-doping and Race Officials programmes and the World Rankings.

So then, how can the Secretariat help ISAF to achieve its goals?

The Secretariat works full time for the sport. Sailing is incredibly diverse and ISAF is involved in pretty much every aspect of it, for example there is, windsurfing, learn-to-sail programmes, the environment, oceanic racing, the racing rules, record breaking, international regulations, the America's Cup, measurement, class rules, anti-doping, etc.

With 19 staff members we are a relatively small team so it's important that we're able to identify where we should be concentrating our resources. Along with the decisions made by the Committees, we also have the ISAF Strategic Plan, which focusses the Secretariat on what the decision makers view as ISAF's priorities and goals.

In the short term, what are your priorities?

Having been ISAF Deputy Secretary General since May last year, I have been working with Arve [the previous Secretary General] to ensure a very smooth transition. As I've been involved with the Secretariat and with ISAF for such a long time, I think I can say I'm pretty familiar with my surroundings and can immediately concentrate on the tasks in hand.

There are of course always many different areas of the sport to keep pace with, but my main focus at the moment is delivering a successful Olympic Sailing Competition in Qingdao.

2008 is a massive year for sailing with the Olympic Games in Qingdao and the equipment selection for the 2012 Games in Weymouth. What are your thoughts on ISAF's role in Olympic sailing?

The Federation's role is defined in the Olympic Charter; we are responsible for the 'technical arrangements', or you could say, the sport side, of the Games. This involves our large team of ISAF Officials, who will ensure the fairness of the competition, from the pre-event measurement, to the race courses, right through to the on-the-water judging for the Medal Races.

The pressures of the Olympic Games are unique, for both the competitors and the organization. In sailing the Olympic Games is still the pinnacle of the sport, I think everybody recognizes that, and that brings with it the pressure of ensuring everything is absolutely right. The main role of ISAF is to provide a level playing field and a fair competition.

What do you see as the key issues facing you in your new role?

Long term, to maintain ISAF's position as a modern and truly global organization. Inevitably, this goal expands into many different areas. Limiting it to the context of the team in Southampton, I would love to include even more nationalities at the Secretariat. On a larger scale, a crucial issue for ISAF is to expand and support the sport within new nations and areas, as well as increasing participation in more traditional sailing nations. For example, personally, I am excited by new equipment - it's been amazing to the see the advances made in just the last ten years - but it's important to remember that the development of a sport within a country can be a slow process. ISAF is a worldwide organization and we need to ensure that our decisions and policies always take this into consideration.

Regarding our ongoing involvement in the world of sailing, ISAF needs to look at the structure of the calendar of major events. We are going to look at the system of measurement, equipment and equipment control. This area has a long history, but it's something where modern technology could really help ISAF provide a better service for the sport.

We need to meet the demands on ISAF to provide officials for all levels of events, which continue to get higher and higher. We need to expand our group of officials. I believe that ISAF is very well equipped to do this and we've already been quite successful in our programme of seminars and clinics to help national authorities to run nation programmes in sail training and the management of the sport, such as officials.

Ongoing is the challenge of being part of the Olympic family. The demands and development of the Olympic Games mean we need to make our sport more attractive to the media and the youth of today.

What do you think ISAF can learn from other areas of the sport, and from other sports federations?

From other sports I think ISAF can learn about selling the sport. By that, I don't just mean selling the sport in the sense of creating income. It's also about promoting the sport, making it appealing for people to come into the sport; and making sailing more accessible to people around the world. Sailing is such a diverse sport, so we need to work on what really matters, to identify a clear path for sailors to rise from grass roots through to professional level. What is the path for a young sailor who wants to emulate their heroes?

Then there's also selling the sport in the commercial sense, to expand ISAF's income stream, which in turn will enable us to develop the sport even further.

You have been involved in sailing for practically your entire life, in almost every aspect of the sport, including over ten years at ISAF. How has this much of an advantage do you think this experience will be?

Personally, I consider it a big advantage. I think I can say that I can see things from different perspectives: from the sailor's point of view, but also from the management of the sport and event organizers' point of view.

One of the key roles of the Secretary General, within the ISAF decision making process, is to be able to offer a professional opinion. President Göran PETERSSON always demands a recommendation from the staff on issues facing ISAF. However it's important to make the distinction, you are not making the decisions, that is the responsibility of the Council and the Executive Committees.

If you're able to put forward all the arguments, for and against, from the perspective of the sailors, the coaches, the organizers etc, the quality of the final decision is going to be better. I think that is required from the Secretary General; to be able to give the decision makers a good background, so they can make good decisions.

Within the sailing world there are many different constituent groups, ranging from sailors to clubs, classes and nations. How do you see ISAF's relationships with these groups and do you see that relationship changing?

The relationships and the co-operation between all these groups are now well established and it is a system that actually works very well. Technology has certainly played a big role in improving communication and bringing these groups even closer together, raising awareness at every level.

I think a big goal of ISAF is to continue to improve its communication to all of these groups: to provide clearer information on why things are done and how decisions are made.

The reality is that ISAF is a completely democratic organization and within the ISAF structure there is the opportunity for everybody to have their voice heard. I think the lively debate we see both within and outside of ISAF is a sign of a healthy federation and the commitment and passion of the people involved in it. However, it's key that people know how they can have their say within ISAF. ISAF is made up of its members, so if you want to be heard, get involved with your national federation or your class association.

To find out more about ISAF, its structure, history and decision making process go to www.sailing.org/aboutisaf.

ISAF Secretariat - www.sailing.org/secretariat.php

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