Offshore Olympics

World Sailing supports a proposal for an Olympic showcase event that looks nothing like the Games we know.

The Figaro Bénéteau 3, which is being developed for French shorthanded races in 2019, is a concept considered ideal for a future coed Olympic distance-sailing discipline.Courtesy Groupe Beneteau

What was once a far-fetched idea for Olympic sailing is one step closer to reality. In February, World Sailing voted to propose an offshore sailing showcase event to the International Olympic Committee for consideration in 2020.

“We wanted an event that reflected what most sailors out there do,” says Stan Honey, chairman of the Oceanic and Offshore Committee at World Sailing. “They’re sailing boats with bunks. They’re following races like the Vendée Globe and the Volvo Ocean Race. The number of followers [of these events] is staggering.”

The vision was to propose an offshore event as an 11th sailing medal for Tokyo, says Honey. Sailors from the dinghy disciplines could play double-duty for the offshore team, solving IOC’s concern regarding space in the athletes’ village. “Like many other sports, we want to give sailors the opportunity for two gold ­medals at one Olympics,” says Honey.

But the council voted against adding an additional medal, instead putting the offshore proposal forward as a showcase event, which does not award medals. “The great thing about a showcase event is we’re not required to use the sailors already at the Olympics; we can bring in new sailors for this round,” says Honey.

The proposed event brings in desirable traits of Olympic classes: mixed-gender crews sailing manufacturer-supplied boats between 9 and 12 meters in length. Prescribed is a four-day race, with course-mark changes during the race as necessary “to guarantee the first finisher arrives the afternoon of the final day, for media and predictable logistics.”

The event would utilize electronic umpiring to ensure the first to finish is the winner, and while the design would be identified after the IOC approves the showcase event, Honey says it would be a production boat.

The showcase would emulate the Volvo Ocean Race in that it “transcends time zones,” says Honey, allowing viewers to engage at any time of day via video feed. Small domes would provide the needed technology to bring live sailing action offshore. “KVH is the largest provider of VSAT domes for communication, and they’ve offered to provide those domes for all the boats, and the bandwidth,” says Honey, who is a KVH board member. “There would be real-time video off the boats anywhere the boats went.”

The offshore discipline does have its skeptics. “I think it could be an interesting ­competition and showcase the sport of ­sailing well, but it will be a huge challenge to make happen at a reasonable cost,” says World ­Sailing council member Torben Grael.

Council member Gary Bodie voted against the submission in favor of both a kiteboarding and team racing showcase event, but he says he’s not entirely against the offshore idea, especially if it includes already involved Olympians vying for a second medal. “We had really good choices for the events,” says Bodie. “The offshore event’s best argument is that it’d go on 24/7 for four days, so we’d be the only Olympic event that was live for probably 12 hours a day. That’ll be prime time somewhere.”