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Abhorrent Treatment of Disabled Sailors

19th September 2018
John Twomey and his crew competing in the Sonar Paralympic class in Kinsale John Twomey and his crew competing in the Sonar Paralympic class in Kinsale Photo: Provision

Hello and welcome to my weekly Podcast …. Tom MacSweeney reporting on current sailing and maritime topics and this week, reflecting on how I have been fortunate during my years of sailing and reporting the sport to meet many disabled sailors, physically challenged in a sport which requires physicality and who were most impressive in the way they overcame the challenges they faced and established themselves on the water….. So I find the exclusion of sailing once again from the Paralympics to be abhorrent and discriminatory…. Strong words, but justified I feel following the exclusion of sailing from the Paralympic Games to be held in Paris in 2024, which follows the exclusion of the sport from the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Sailing is one of the most inclusive of sports, which the Chief Executive of World Sailing, Andy Hunt, summed up accurately when he said that, “Regardless of their classification, sailing’s athletes compete on a level basis with able-bodied sailors…..”

The Paralympics Committee has taken the view that sailing is “not in compliance with one or more of the core criteria for Games inclusion” That is disputed on the numbers criteria used, which stipulates that sports accepted for the Games must be widely and regularly practised in a minimum of thirty-two countries and three IPC regions.

"...sailing’s athletes compete on a level basis with able-bodied sailors…”

World Sailing claims to have exceeded the worldwide reach criteria. Following the removal from the 2020 Paralympics, it launched a strategic plan that resulted in 80 sailors from 37 nations and five continents racing at last year’s Para World Sailing Championships. The annual Championships are being held in Wisconsin this week, with a record 101 sailors from 42 nations registered to race.

World Sailing is seeking a meeting with the Paralympics Games leadership about the decision … Disabled sailors have told me that the world sailing organisation could have given more support to disabled sailing in the past, but did so after the exclusion of the sport from the 2020 Games….

I was approached by the father of a disabled youngster who wanted to get him involved in sailing, but said he had found it confusing to do so. Not being a member of any club, when he sought information on the Internet and found a reference to Sailability Ireland as being “supported” by Irish Sailing… He was unsure how to get his son involved. Perhaps the sport needs to make the pathway to involvement clearer…

There has always been positive support in the clubs towards involving disabled sailors and it is a strong memory of mine how in one of my first interviews with a disabled sailor I was told that being on the water provided a sense of freedom and equality of competitive effort. Ireland has competed strongly at the Paralympics…. John Twomey of Kinsale Yacht Club, which has been strongly involved in promoting sailability, being particularly outstanding for his many years of involvement and several other sailors too.

Thinking back to that father who approached me – and also conscious that, perhaps, “disabled sailors” is not completely the best or most accurate, correct description to use - and that “challenged” could be better …. Perhaps more could be done to make the pathway to sailing clearer for those who are physically challenged….

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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