Recently returned to Great Britain after the conclusion of the America's Cup, ISAF caught up with GBR Challenge skipper and double Olympic Silver Medallist Ian Walker.
Following success in the Mirror and 420 class, Ian really hit the big time winning the coveted International 14 World Championships before teaming up with long time sailing rival John Merricks to plan a 470 Campaign for the 1996 Olympic Games in Savannah.
Leading up to the Games, they won the 1994 ISAF World Championships in La Rochelle alongside a string of international victories at international level before claiming the silver medal in Savannah.
Sadly, in 1997 John was tragically killed in a road accident, breaking a fantastic partnership that as well as Olympic silver, had become a force to be reckoned with on Keelboat circuits around the World.
Teaming up with Mark Covell for the 2000 Olympics in the Star Class in Sydney - a partnership borne out of mutual loss when Mark's helm Glynn Charles was lost in the fateful 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race - Ian claimed his second silver medal before joining GBR Challenge as Sailing Team manager and skipper.
In this interview Ian gives his opinion on a number of issues. In this first part, he talks about GBR Challenge, the future of the America's Cup, now that it has moved from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere, changes we can expect, and possible venues.
In hindsight Ian, do you think GBR Challenge realistically lived up to it's full potential?
I think with all projects you look back on them and there are areas you can see you could have done a lot better. I think that the result is probably about what one would have expected. We were significantly below the other semi final teams and pretty similar to Sweden and Stars and Stripes, and Clearly ahead of the French and the Italians. I guess that's what everybody would have expected if you listed the syndicates in terms of budget, but personally I would have liked to have gone one step further, I would like to have got through the quarter final stage, but for a whole bunch of reasons, we weren't able to do that, so I think in terms of learning for the future. So much has been learnt in so many areas that if we started again now it would be unthinkably better than where we started two years ago. So much so it's pretty hard to imagine how we even got started two years ago. So in terms of what we learned it is absolutely massive and I guess that's the biggest thing we've achieved is to have been able to learn all those things and hopefully use that moving forward in the future.
Do you think that taking GBR 78 out to Auckland and doing the work with it was a mistake?
78 was like a separate project, we never saw ourselves really as a two boat programme because even taking 78 out when we did there was no way we were going to be able to work it up against 70 in the traditional way you'd use a two boat programme, it really was a gamble if you like, it was something which Peter Harrison decided to do.
Ian in Action in Race 1 of the LVC in Auckland
© Jon Nash/Getty Images Europe
As well as the revenue the Cup is going to take to Europe, as the fact that it will raise the profile of the Cup, you have said there will be a whole new set of Challengers. Do you think the number of Challengers will affect the funding available?
Not Really, I think that the entry level of funding even if you just want to do a bare bones one-boat campaign is so high that you're not going to have people hammering at the gate to do it. I think that there are not enough second hand boats from the relevant European Countries to suggest that a lot of people could enter with an old boat. I think that if there was any threat of this then I think Alinghi, or the organisers appointed by Alinghi, would seek to prevent that from happening. Certainly what the new protocol is aiming towards is a good, high quality event that delivers good returns for those teams that enter, and it's not about having masses and masses of teams diluting the pot for everybody.
How do you see the single body organisers appointed by Alinghi?
There are two sides. The way I understand it is that the commission set up by the Challengers and the defenders would jointly choose the race committee and jury so I don't think that you are going to see a race committee or Jury appointed by the defenders, which is currently the case.[Ed Note: The International Jury for the America's Cup is determined in conjunction with ISAF.] So I have far fewer concerns in terms of the running of the racing, that's one side of it. The other side of it is the whole commercial handling of the event and in that instance then I think the defender is going to maintain total control of the organisation and particularly the media. Until this event, it's been done separately so the challengers have organised their event, and they've organised their selling of media rights, and the running of the racing, and the defenders have done theirs. Now really that's a shambles, I mean you shouldn't have the two sides of the event competing for media for a start, and clearly it's ridiculous changing the race committee halfway through the event, or at the end of the Louis Vuitton. So I think there is a lot of merit to what Alinghi are suggesting, but of course the fear would always be that the defender could abuse that power because they effectively would handle all the commercial rights to the whole event, whereas before the challengers handled the commercial rights to their side of the event. But realistically you can't do these things by committee, you need to have somebody who's going to own the event and do the best, and you've got to trust them to do the very best for the event and all the teams in it. I think as long as that body that is appointed is accountable and that their accounts can be audited by all the challengers and the agreements are sort of agreed in advance then I don't have a problem with it, and I personally do trust Alinghi and all their intentions in running a fantastic event.
What about the rules behind the Cup?
I think the Arbitration panel was totally ineffective this time. I thought the jury did a fantastic job and I think the suggestion is that the jury will take on basically the role of the arbitration panel, and I think that is good sense. As for the deed of gift I mean you have the deed of gift that's always in place; always will be in place. The protocol is now written - I guess you need the protocol because that basically gives you the rules of what's going to happen. I think that what they need to do is make sure that the conditions and the sailing instructions are merged if possible into one document, and I think it's unrealistic to expect all these documents to be merged into one because the deed of gift is the thing that will always happen. The protocol is the thing that is put in place once you have a challenge to a defender, and then the conditions can only be decided once you know how many challengers and defenders there are. So it would be impossible to have the whole thing in place before you even had the number of challengers for instance, so I think really the minimum you can have probably is three.
I mean a normal sailing event has a notice of race and sailing instructions so obviously the notice of race is effectively like your protocol and then you can't agree all the sailing instructions until you know roughly how many boats they're going to have. So all we're saying is that there's another older one that governs the whole lot. Currently I think there's actually four, the deed, the protocol, the conditions and then the Sailing Instructions.
Plus all the Amendments, I mean obviously you can get rid of all the amendments by merging them, which I think they'll seek to do.
Thoughts on the Umpiring out there [in Auckland]?
I don't think the races were very close. I mean, well umpiring is a tough job and, in my opinion we benefited from one or two umpire mistakes. I think it's a tough job and they did it pretty well.
There are over 25 possible venues for the next Cup. Which immediately comes to mind as your preferred venue?
Basically I think the event needs to go to whichever venue can offer the most return to the teams in terms of attracting commercial sponsorship involvement, in terms of having the best possible event with good wind, and in terms of any other incentives they can give be it financial or tax reductions for the teams. Anything basically to reduce the cost and increase the value to the teams. My preferred venue would have to be Lisbon because my wife speaks Portuguese.
Do you think the choice of venue makes a big difference in terms of design?
It will certainly make differences. The boats are all right down one end of the rule and I'd be surprised if that massively changed. But it would certainly tailor your thinking in certain areas.
There have been many past ISAF Youth World Championship Winners in America's Cup Syndicates. How do you think the international youth programme prepares sailors for elite level competition?
Well I didn't do the Youth Worlds so I can't really speak from any experience, but what I would say is that doing a big international event at an early age has a huge impression on you, particularly if you end up winning that event. It can give a huge boost to your personal self confidence and that can have a big effect and can broaden your outlook within the sport. Someone like Chris Dickson winning the Youth Worlds might suddenly think "I can make a career out of this" and you are the best in the World at your age, which is a huge statement, so if there was no ISAF Youth Worlds then I don't think any people from other countries would ever compare themselves. So I think it is pretty important. Just as important as the actual event is everything that spins off from the event like for instance the British [youth squad] system and the series of qualifying. The Youth Nationals in England is a huge event for everybody that takes part in that within this country, and if you have one of those for every event that is in the youth worlds, it's a very important structural framework for young sailors to set themselves goals and aspire to excellence and then deal with the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with either winning or losing.
More .... the second part of the interview with Ian Walker will be published on the ISAF Website on Friday 21 March, mainly focusing on youth in sailing issues.