ISAF’s Events Committee has produced a slate of disciplines for the 2016 Olympics that includes a mixed multihull and doesn’t (gasp) include the Star. Now before everyone (or at least all the current and former Star sailors) gets too excited, remember that this is simply the recommendation from the Events Committee. As logical as it would be to have this committee decide the final slate and not the biased, self-interested, and extremely political general council, that’s not how it works. The ISAF Council will vote on the slate this weekend. Three years ago, the council all but tossed aside the recommendation of the Events Committee and chucked the multihull from the Olympics. For more on that debacle, and how the process works, see this story.
Here’s the list of events, as reported by the ISAF blog,
• Board or kite-board for men and women – equipment evaluation
• One person dinghy men – Laser Standard
• One person dinghy women – Laser Radial
• Two person dinghy (skiff) men – 49er
• Two person dinghy (skiff) women – equipment evaluation
• Second one person dinghy men – Finn
• Two person mixed multihull – equipment evaluation
• Two person mixed dinghy with spinnaker – 470
• Women’s keelboat – Elliott 6m
Should the council stick with this slate of events, however, I think it would be a step in the right direction. Losing the Star won’t be popular, especially with the general older set of folks who run the sport both internationally and in this country, and this slate of events is sure to create a pitched and very political battle on the council, just the sort of free for all that saw the multihull inexplicably get removed from the roster for the London Games in 2012. But ISAF has to start updating the slate of Olympic classes and there’s no better place to start than with the oldest design in the fleet. Hopefully the Finn will go next and then the 470.
Another sign of progress is the inclusion of mixed rather than open classes. In the slate of events proposed by the Events Committee both the multihull, which is to be determined by evaluation trials, and a two-person dinghy, the 470, are mixed, as in one man and one woman. A few years ago, as part of a three-part web report on how to reshape the Olympic Regatta and make sailing more attractive to the IOC and the general public, I pitched my thoughts on how the classes should be re-worked (scroll down to the bottom of the story for my thoughts on the classes, not all of which I would still endorse). One idea I was really high on was a coed class. It wasn't something I'd heard taken too seriously before and more than a few people thought I was a little nuts. But my logic is sound (apparently as three years later the events committee thinks the same thing). There are precious few coed events in the Olympics: Pairs figure skating and ice dancing are the only two events I can think of where men and work compete as a team, though I could be missing one or two. Equestrian could be included on this list, but while the teams are coed, the athletes compete on their own. This twist—being the only sport in the summer games where men and women work in partnership for a medal—could spark some interest in the sport. The general public loves to see both sexes working together in athletic competition. Elevating sailing’s standing amongst all the Olympic sports is very important given how much money and effort it takes to put on the Olympic regatta, and how out of balance that is with the meager revenue the sport brings in.
Two other quick points: I’m still dumbfounded that women’s match racing is considered an Olympic discipline, but men’s match racing is not. For me this would be the ultimate solution to people worried about dinghies restricting sailing to lighter athletes, or simply to only those athletes who fit within narrow body type windows, which is a legitimate concern. Bring in a three-person keelboat for men’s match race (drop the fleet size from 18 to 12 to make the number of athletes equal to that of the Star). Removing the Star will eliminate marquee sailors from the Olympics, but the match racing will bring them right back in.
Finally, the battle between the boards and the kites will be interesting. Kiteboarding has a lot of X-Games appeal, which the IOC is pushing for to keep the competition relevant to younger generations. But the sport is so new that I’m not sure all the kinks of racing have been worked out yet. They will, in due course, but is ISAF willing to go out on a limb and pitch an event that isn’t really fully formed? My money says no. But you never know.