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ISAF Becomes 'World Sailing' – What's In A Name?

22nd December 2015
afloat_mcsweeney
Optimist training at Baltimore in West Cork

The world sailing organisation has changed its name – and about time too!

The initials, ISAF, had to be explained in the English language as – International Sailing Federation.

Having to explain an organisation’s name does it no favours.

The name was not sufficiently descriptive, it was cumbersome, bureaucratic-sounding and a hang-over from the past when sailing was the preserve of too many elite factions.

Changing to ‘World Sailing’ is more correctly descriptive of the sport.

This was announced at the World Yacht Racing Forum in Geneva, where 280 delegates discussed the future of the sport, how to increase the level of public awareness of sailing, increase active participation, ensure sustainability, deal with emerging safety issues such as foiling and how to build the commercial appeal of sailing to increase sponsorship.

One of the particularly interesting discussions, I felt, was about the training of young sailors and how the sport can ensure their continuance in what we like to regard as “a sport for life.”

There is on-going discussion in the sport here about the level of coaching of younger sailors and whether the Irish Sailing Association, the national governing body, puts too much emphasis on the ‘Pathway’ to competitive international sailing and not enough on clubs and domestic competition.

It has been argued that this discourages junior sailors from long-term participation in the sport and is a counterbalance to the concept of sailing as “a sport for life.”

The approach to junior sailing was discussed at the World Yacht Racing Forum where Andrew Hurst, Editor of Seahorse, the international sailing magazine, said that young sailors were being “absurdly over-coached.” As an example, he said: “We have very few Optimist champions who have gone on to win silverware at senior level. We need to inspire youngsters to look at sailing as a sport for life.”

That remark arguably challenges the Optimist fleet, which introduces the youngest participants to the sport. While the training provided to Optimists gives youngsters a good grounding in the sport and builds their confidence, I have been told by several parents of their concern that this can be over-done and can place too much emphasis on competition.

But I have also seen at first-hand – and admired - the commitment of parents to the organisation of events such as the Optimist Spring Training Weeks held at Baltimore in West Cork, where I saw the benefits of good coaching to the young sailors taking part. They seemed to me to gain confidence and ability in boat-handling, but if they are not destined to become potential ‘winners’ will they drop out of sailing in later years?

Interestingly, the winning skipper of the Volvo Ocean Race, Ian Walker, said at the Geneva meeting that in some developed nations “kids are being over-coached to the point where they want to leave the sport in their late teens, never to return.”

This is an issue which needs more analysis and discussion because many clubs are concerned about membership levels right now and into the future. The continued involvement of young people is vital for the future of the sport.

One of the disappointing aspects of the Geneva meeting, in my view, is that there is no sign yet of World Sailing achieving any change of the polluted Rio waters for Olympic racing next year, nor of getting sailing back into the Paralympics. After next year, disabled sailing has been dropped and that to me is an appalling vista for the future of our sport.

Published in Island Nation
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