Tuesday, January 19, 2016

RS:X women stand up to escalating regatta costs

In preparation for the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, the first World Cup event of 2016, many sailors competed in "Midwinters" regattas held at the sailing clubs in Coconut Grove.  These small events have a history of about 4-5 years and are normally used as a low-key warm up before the World Cup.  However, this year one little regatta was the victim of an unfortunate trend in both the  Olympic class circuit and the American racing scene:  escalating costs for sailors, facilitating exclusivity. 

The men's and women's RS:X fleets were stunned when confronted with a $200 entry fee for a small three-day event. The cost of the three-day Midwinters event combined with the cost of the World Cup ($350 for singlehanded boats plus $150 coach entry) can run sailors as much as $700 just to participate in the regattas. In Europe or South America, regatta fees for small events are normally around 40-60 euro, or  $50-75.  High level European World Cup regattas, week-long events, cost around 200 euro or $220.  Factoring in travel expenses, coaching or a boat (a critical need for RS:X sailors to reach the starting line on time in light wind and carry food and water), and the high cost of housing in Miami, this event can push even the most financially solvent competitor over budget.  American sailors are required to compete in Miami almost every year to qualify for the US Sailing Team.  For "average Janes" like me, it's a steep hurdle indeed, and one that will remove any middle-class, self-funded but motivated sailor from the racing community. 

Because less women than men were registered and paid online for the Midwinters, the women decided to defect from the regatta and hold their own event or "coaches' regatta" while the men stayed with the original event.  (Even so, a third of the men did not compete due to the cost).  The entire women's fleet removing themselves from the event was the fault of both sailors and organizers, but the incident strongly serves as an example of what can happen when sailing federations and clubs try to profit from sailors instead of promoting the sport. 

When organizing the event, US Sailing was faced with a number of issues.  The first is that ISAF  (or World Sailing as they are now called) pushed US Sailing to hold the event without much assistance, creating extra hassle before the Miami World Cup regatta.  Secondly, the sailing clubs in Miami are charging more and more money to host events, and some have refused to host visiting sailors at all.  This year marked the first time clubs charged visiting windsurfers training just a short time before the event ($15/day until the regatta) and also raised prices for US Sailing to hold the event.  The event was also not well publicized.  For the RS:X class, the NOR was published online only two weeks before the regatta (after there was a late entry fee added), and the website for the regatta was very difficult to find as it was hidden within the Miami World Cup site.  An email went out to some American sailors, also only two weeks before the event.

Even through the organizational rush, to me it was obvious that someone was trying to profit from the sailors.  Because the RS:X women defected the evening before the regatta began, US Sailing panicked because they would lose money and the effort of organizing the event.  As a result, we negotiated the regatta entry down to $125, which would cover costs and be a reasonable entry fee for sailors.  Unfortunately, it was too late for the majority of the women, who had already met with their coaches to arrange their separate event.  At that point, there was nothing else I could do to help the organizers.  Because my close friend, (who does an amazing job promoting windsurfing in Miami) was running the RS:X circle, I personally registered for the regatta at the price of $125 but did not compete.  However, I had delayed entering the two weeks before the event due to the steep price.

Men get launched in 25-30 knot breeze at the Midwinters. (Photo Alex Morales)

If the regatta price had been a reasonable $125 from the beginning, there would have been no problem getting the women to enter and create a good event.  Instead, regatta organizers and sailors were put at opposition, furthering the "us vs. them" mentality between sailing federations, clubs, and athletes.  Raising the costs of events each year is detrimental to all sailors and organizers, and does nothing to promote the sport of Olympic class sailing, which is already a very difficult and exclusive sport to enter.  This trend is not limited to the Miami events - clubs all over the USA are constantly imposing higher prices and more restrictions on sailors.  My hope is that sailing federations and clubs can look at the bigger picture, and instead of trying to profit from sailors and promote exclusivity, try to promote our sport to everyone. 

1 comment:

  1. Inland, the issue becomes one of Government controlling the access. Fresno Yacht Club struggles with a state park that has taken over control of the local lake and having to file a request for every single event we do on the high mountain lake near buy...oh yeah and we have to insure the Federal government against loss and meet many staffing demands...
    and provide gender neutral bathrooms