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I Believe Sailing is a 'Sport For All'

30th March 2016
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ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney is committed to expanding involvement in sailing ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney is committed to expanding involvement in sailing Photo: Bob Bateman

I am a passionate believer in the concept that sailing is ‘a sport for all and a sport for life’. I took to heart a slogan to this effect promoted by the Irish Sailing Association a few years ago. I have advanced that concept since I first heard it. Nowadays I wonder if how many true believers there are in this concept. While I fully support the need for a national sailing association and believe that it means what was said about ‘a sport for all’ I don’t see that concept, simple, direct and embracing in its description advanced as a major focus of the Association. I may be missing something but when last did you see the ISA state this concept forcefully in a public message?
I do not want to be perceived as a critic of the ISA because I am not. I am committed to the essential necessity of sporting representation through a strong national organisation. However, having observed, listened to and received various approaches in recent years from those who have challenged the ISA and, in fairness to them and the ISA executive authorities, created a degree of change, I have a degree of concern that the effective level of national association relationships with and to clubs and ‘the ordinary’ club sailors (not a particularly nice description but perhaps apt), could do with more attention.
I chaired a debate on whether sailing is a welcoming sport at the annual conference of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association in Limerick and was encouraged by the response of delegates there, but they also raised questions about the Irish Sailing Association. It has launched a ‘Try Sailing Initiative’ through associated clubs and training centres. “This is building on last year’s inaugural success of this approach,” Gail McAllister, ISA Regional Development Officer for the Southern Region, told me. “The ISA is partnering with the Marine Institute in Galway and this will see a thorough implementation of initiatives and a strong promotional campaign introducing the public to the joys of sailing. We have a firm belief that you have to take your message to the people at least as much as you expect people to come to your club. We want to make it clear that all are welcome - and genuinely welcome at that.”
I agree with and support those comments. Effort is being put into raising participation levels in the sport. There are attempts to counteract falling membership numbers and an ageing profile amongst boatowners in many. It is my view that the sport is more popular than it was in past years, despite a fall-off in numbers in recent times. The challenge is to put in place plans to maintain growth for the future and to remove, once-and-for-all the, image of sailing as being an ‘elitist’ sport.
On my own boat I have a policy of trying to introduce at least one new crew member to the sport every year. May I recommend that to club members throughout the country? Meantime perhaps you would listen to my Podcast this week where I interview the new Commodore of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association, Simon McGibney, the first West of Ireland sailor to hold the post. I spoke to him in Limerick at the end of the annual meeting of ICRA. He is committed to expanding involvement in sailing and in racing and he believes this will happen. At the start of the interview I congratulated this member of Foynes Sailing Club on being the first West of Ireland Commodore of ICRA.
• Listen to Podcast below

Published in Island Nation

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