Sunday, May 20, 2012

Update on ISAF Decision

Over the last week, more and more issues have been brought to light about the way ISAF delegates voted in their historic decision to remove windsurfing from the 2016 Olympic Games in favor of kiteboarding.  More countries have challenged the way their delegates voted, and it shows that in fact, ISAF delegates did not thoroughly research their decisions.

Most notably, Canadian delegate Fiona Kidd voted for kiteboarding after listening to an impassioned speech by a kiteboarding representative shortly before the voting.  Ms. Kidd is a member of the ISAF Women's Forum.  The RS:X women have been communicating with her, and it is clear that she voted for kiteboarding based on "an opportunity to bring new women to the sport of sailing."  However, the reality for women in kiteboarding is currently very different.  Only 12 women competed in the 2011 World Championships in kiteboard course racing, a vast comparison to the 80 entries and 39 nations in the 2012 RS:X World Championships in Cadiz, Spain- and dozens more youth women not competing in the event, training there.  A letter from the RS:X women's class leader, Olga Maslivets, explains the statistics (apologies for the length):

"Dear Fiona

Thank you for forwarding your report.

Nevertheless there are serious issues to address as important decisions like this impact the lives of thousands of athletes, coaches, MNAs, their sponsors and companies involved in the whole sport


From my calculations over 30% of the votes cast ~ 6 ~ in favour of kite by council members were either made in error, confusion about the voting process, against the guidance given by their constituencies or after no consultation with those constituencies.

In addition a further 21% of votes cast - this time by ISAF Vice Presidents - were either against the interest of the geographical constituency that was instrumental in first nominating them and then voting for them and/or their MNAs have since distanced themselves from their actions either publicly or privately.

Some may argue that the ISAF VPs do not vote for any particular geographical grouping. To them I would ask whether the fact that there is one VP each from Asia, South America and North America with the Oceania being represented through the treasurer is just a coincidence or whether they are there to represent the geographical area from which they come ?

51% of the voting decisions for Kite were therefore based on the spur-of-the-moment or on personal preference without proper consideration of the impact of the outcomes either for kitesurfing or windsurfing.

Despite the large number of people claimed by the IKA to be engaged in kitesurfing worldwide, this only produced 12 women entries to the 2011 Kitesurfing course racing world championships from 10 nations of which only ONE voted for kite and the rest voted for windsurfing. There must be a message for ISAF in that statistic.

Additionally only 2 - one in the production division - of those women managed to complete all the races without letters in their scoreline

This compares to 80 women registered for the 2012 RS:X World Championships from 37 nations  and 5 continents with 16 of them competing for the last 7 qualification spots for London 2012.

In the meantime, please enjoy this video showing 1111 windsurfers taking part in the 2011 Defi-Wind at Le Gruissan in France.

This is just a small illustration of the shear size of the sport of windsurfing and the numbers taking part in racing in one form or another

Whilst kite obviously has potential, it is as yet unproven against the obvious success of the RS:X Women's Class who are second only to the Laser Radial in terms of numbers of athletes and country participation - 39 nations in the Olympic Q Series  -

It seems odd that you did not take this into account

ISAF liability
Whilst you seem happy to accept the bland assurances of the sport of kitesurfing becoming safer and dismiss any misgivings in one line of your report. National, Regional, City and local governments around the world have seen fit to either ban kitesurfing altogether or severely limit the geographical locations where it can be enjoyed

In Sydney Harbour, the venue for the 2000 Olympic Regatta kitesurfing is banned

In Singapore, the venue for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, kitesurfing in banned

In Cyprus, the venue for the 2013 ISAF Youth Worlds, kitesurfing is banned

On Lake Garda, Italy, the venue for the Italian leg of the EUROSAF Olympic Classes Regatta Circuit kitesurfing is banned

There are a lot more examples but these serve to illustrate my point

These restrictions are to protect other users of these waters from the risk of injury. In fact 122 kite surfers have been killed in the last 10 years. Other casualties are hard to verify but here are a few examples

Dangerous situations can occur despite proper training and safety precautions due to unpredictable conditions and difficulties with equipment.

Whilst I appreciate that you thought that you were acting in everyone's best interest, I would urge you and all our friends on the ISAF Women's Forum to do their own due diligence. The three points I have made should be enough to give you all proper reasons to reflect.

Meanwhile, here's what Paul Henderson has to say " Just an observation from a has-been ISAF President and IOC Member who first went to then IYRU in 1970 as a smart-ass Canuck. Never in all that time has a Council changed 40% of the classes in an Olympiad. This totally disrupts the sailors, which is the reason for the Games, not some unobtainable TV exposure. No other sport has ever done this. One event maybe, but 40%? I trust that the IOC Program Commission will ask ISAF to review all its decisions... including the keelboat exclusion"

Has ISAF made a balanced well thought through decision?

Warm Regards

PS. ISAF selected women's match racing then booted it out before its first Olympic Regatta. ISAF booted the multi-hull out and was subject to major criticism. Now it has done the same for windsurfing with a spur of the moment decision. Do you feel that the decision making process is producing consistently good decisions?

As the Canadian voting process is exposed, Americans are also starting to question the decisions of their own delegates, which account for three of the votes for kiteboarding.  Americans in ISAF have been voting against windsurfing for many, many years - since before I started campaigning.  However, since their votes have always gone unnoticed in the majority of nations' support of windsurfing, they have gone unchallenged.  Perhaps now is the best time to once again spotlight the questionable practices of US Sailing and the decision-making process that goes into their votes.   Nevin Sayre, promoter of the Bic Techno youth one-design windsurfer, writes in a letter to US Sailing:  "In a year when U.S. Sailing has expressed deep concern over the sudden uptick in tragic sailing deaths from Annapolis to San Francisco, what is U.S. Sailing’s safety plan here? Is U.S. Sailing aware that insurance companies, citing grave safety concerns, have refused to cover sailing programs which include kitesurfing......when instructional and competitive programs are developing young kitesurf racers, and safely channeling them toward their Olympic dreams, let’s go. We are clearly not there yet for 2016 Olympic Games."

On the North American front, it's clear that more thought needs to go into major decisions such as these.  It is a major step forward for Canada that their delegate is willing to do the research necessary to make an informed decision at the next vote.  However, it's not certain that our American politicians are willing to take into consideration the viewpoints of the actual sailors affected by their decisions.  We can only act to repair the flaws in the process of ISAF's voting.

Nevin's letter

NZ Herald article about Canadian voting

Another NZ Herald article interviewing Bruce Kendall

Jerusalem Post article

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kiteboarding Replaces Windsurfing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil: Bad Politics Still Reign Supreme

Last week, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) voted kiteboarding into the 2016 Olympics, at the expense of RS:X Olympic windsurfing.  The highly controversial decision is generating an international uproar from sailors across the globe.  The decision represents yet another example of how removed sailing politicians are from actual sailors, and is one of the worst in the history of Olympic sailing, a history punctuated by bad politics.  The decision was based on one opinion-based report and test event attended only by kiteboard representatives, and a failure on the part of the RS:X class leadership and other international sailing federations to assume that the success of international windsurfing would speak for itself, and to misread how intent ISAF was to gain publicity for the 2016 Olympic quadrennium.

After a week of furor, sailors unearthed many examples of apathetic and poor ISAF politics.  Of course, many of the ISAF delegates voted for kiting unconcerned about the wishes of actual Olympic sailors, but in their own self-interest.  However, several evidences conclude that many countries' delegates made less than informed decisions.  The first was erroneous reporting by participants in kiteboarding's trial event.  Kiteboarding conducted one trial event held to coincide with one of the Olympic selection events for windsurfing, the RS:X World Championships in Cadiz, Spain.  The concluding report was an opinion-based document unrepresentative of the windsurfers, the actual group affected by the outcome of the trials.  Better and unbiased research needed to be performed before the actual vote.

ISAF botched the voting process, and certain groups were actually misrepresented or under-represented.  ISAF's events committee evaluated both windsurfing and kiteboarding, and voted for windsurfing before the final vote at last week's ISAF meeting. Boards magazine questioned RS:X class secretary Rory Ramsden about this decision, and he reported, "The specialist events committee were the first to discuss the decision of windsurfing or kitesurfing to be taken to the next Olympics. Here, the votes were 14 for RS:X men, and two against (Australia and the USA), and for RS:X women there were 15 votes for and again, two against. So, there was a very clear vote in favour of keeping windsurfing, and a great recommendation to ISAF to keep RS:X. I was confident that when we walked into the council chamber that we had a minimum of 21 votes for windsurfing, with 15 against, which is a comfortable majority.  But the actual vote was 19 for kite, and 17 for windsurfing."

The voting process also confused ISAF delegates and influenced their votes.  Most notably, the Spanish delegate voted for kiteboarding.  Because Spain has one of the world's strongest Olympic windsurfing program, evidenced by their world champion women's competitors Marina Alabau and Blanca Manchon, and no kite racing as of yet, the Spanish delegate's vote was a jaw-dropping standout. During the meeting, the Spanish delegate also represented the delegate from Portugal, who favored windsurfing but did not attend. Therefore, the Spanish delegate gave two votes for kiteboarding.  It later came out that he made a mistake when he voted for kites, and in fact hoped to vote for windsurfing.  A translation of a statement made by the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation states, "Spain supported and is supporting maintaining windsurfing (RS:X) in the 2016 Olympics.  In fact, during the recent years RFEV has heavily invested in the development of future windsurfing promises...the current Spanish Olympic sailing team has some of the best windsurfers in the world that are serious contenders for a medal both at the previous Olympics and the next ones this summer...Despite this, at the last moment the Spanish representative in the ISAF council gave his vote for the kite, an error caused by the confusion of the voting system.  The federation president, Gerardo Pombo, takes responsibility for his error and wants to apologize to all Spanish windsurfers."

In addition to delegates' confusion, Asian countries, heavily invested in Olympic windsurfing, were under-represented at the time of voting.  This may have been a result of uncertainty over when the actual vote would take place:  Rory Ramsden quoted, "There was a big discussion about whether to make the decision now, or wait until November. A clear majority voted for the decision to be made now to give everyone the maximum amount of time to plan their campaigns."  The only Asian countries to vote included Japan, a strong supporter of RS:X, and Singapore and India, countries not invested in Olympic sailing.  China, Hong Kong, and Korea, all countries with developed programs in Olympic windsurfing, missed out on the opportunity to vote.  Barbara Kendall, multiple Olympic medalist in women's windsurfing from New Zealand and International Olympic Committee representative, believed that a lack of Asian representation on the voting committee pointed to a major flaw with ISAF's procedure for the selection of kiteboarding. "Due diligence wasn't done, and when you're an organization responsible for a lot of money and you do make changes, that is absolutely essential. From what's been seen it hasn't been done, [and] ISAF loses so much credibility; it's quite sad," she stated to the New Zealand Herald.

Regardless of outcome, it is apparent that ISAF's Olympic class selection process needs revision and a clear set of rules to follow.  ISAF showed a poor representation and understanding of two board sports that are exciting and fun, and tarnished sailors' simple enjoyment of both sports with bad politics.  Windsurfing and kiting can easily co-exist, and in communities where both already do so, such as at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, both windsurfers and kiteboarders show enthusiasm, a positive attitude, great respect, and even crossing over among both sports.

Most Olympic windsurfers, including me, enjoy kiteboarding and would like to welcome kites into the Olympics, but not at the expense of our own sport.  Kites are less than ready to be in the 2016 Olympics for a variety of reasons, but ISAF politicians and the IKA glossed over many issues and refused to do the right thing:  find a solution to introduce kiting before the 2016 quad, allow it to become organized globally, and add it to the 2020 roster of Olympic events.  There may be other, equally as viable, solutions to the problem for the 2016 quad that can provide an opportunity for both kiteboarding and windsurfing to compete at the Olympic Games. 

Windsurfers and kiteboards prepare for a start in San Francisco, California, USA.

What does ISAF's decision mean for the lives of many windsurfers?  Everyone is very disappointed that the ISAF politicians didn't make an informed decision, but we are all adaptable.  If our effort to save windsurfing doesn't come to fruition, Olympic windsurfing will be the best thing that ever happened to the sport of kiteboarding.  It will be the windsurfers who create the equipment, the structure, and the development of the kiteboarding class.  And, it will be Olympic windsurfers who rise to the top of the sport. 

Personally, ISAF's decision is devastating.  I was already laying the structure for my 2016 Olympic campaign, and it looks like my plans will change drastically.  I made a lot of progress in my sport over the past six months and I felt that I could rise to the top of the fleet over the next four years.  It is incredibly disappointing to have the opportunity for me to reach the potential of my sailing taken away - the decision impacts all the funding and structure I have built around my campaign and my life.  Because I have been building my life around windsurfing, I have to start again from ground zero.  The situation is the same for anyone who is a full-time Olympic windsurfer or has a job based on Olympic windsurfing.

The change will impact a lot of structure and grass-roots efforts centered around building windsurfing in the United States and other developing countries.  Although the Bic Techno is still a Youth Olympic class, overall participation and level of mastery will decline as young teenagers begin following their Olympic dreams by learning to kiteboard.  If the decision stands, the RS:X class will become essentially defunct, and many developing countries' investment in the Olympic windsurfing equipment will be irrelevant.

The RS:X class is making a last-ditch effort to turn the vote around at the next ISAF meeting in November.  Please help our class by signing the petition - keep us in the Olympics!

Go here to sign the Petition

Go here to visit the Facebook Group

New Zealand Herald article

Boards Magazine interview with Rory Ramsden 

VSail article about the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation 

Interview with JP Tobin (NZL 2012 Olympic representative) about kiteboarding

BBC video interview with Nick Dempsey, GBR 2012 Olympic representative