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ISA Strategic Review Report Heralds Big Changes Ahead

27th March 2014
david lovegrove ISA
ISA President David Lovegrove – new report calls for 'fundamental change to sailing in Ireland' Photo: Bob Bateman
ISA Strategic Review Report Heralds Big Changes Ahead

#ISA - They promised a shake-up – and with the release of an independent review of the state of the Irish Sailing Association (ISA), there are indeed some big changes on the way for sailing's national representative body. 

Last November reported on the appointment of a Strategic Review Group (SRG) to point the way towards a new direction for the ISA, after months of discussions and doomsaying over the state of sailing in Ireland for all bar the 'elite' high-performance athletes.

(The full SRG report and an introduction from new ISA President David Lovegrove are downloadable below as PDF documents).

It's more than a year now since former ISA president Roger Bannon provided his poor assessment of Irish sailing's health, claiming that its figurehead organisation "has lost its way over the past few years" as a bureaucracy "detached from the reality of what is going on in the front line."

That reality - beyond the obvious successes on the international stage for Olympic stars like Annalise Murphy - is a crisis of dwindling interest in sailing nationwide as membership rates fall, and a lack of confidence in the ISA's support for leisure sailing, especially within the more accessible, lower-cost dinghy classes.

It prompted the likes of sportboat sailor Ric Morris, sail trainer David Harte and former Irish Olympics sailing chief Richard Burrows to chime in with their own individual takes on the state of play, painting a picture of a sailing community that needs to pull out all the stops to ensure the next generations of sailors are not discouraged from getting afloat, whatever their level of skill or interest.

The National Yacht Club Forum in March 2013 heard of stormy waters for Irish sailing - a situation that the ISA board responded to the following month with its recommendations for preserving the future of small boat classes. That in turn led to further debate and suggestions on what the ISA could do to rejuvenate sailing outside of the performance ranks.

Looking at the stats as they stood last year, which make clear there's been a significant drop-off at the novice level, Bannon was left to conclude that "competitive small boat sailing in Ireland is clearly on its knees".

But as we reported on in November last year, it's not all doom and gloom for Irish dinghy sailing, and the subsequent appointment of the SRG by the association - and making a point of including such dissenting voices as Roger Bannon in its ranks - showed the ISA's commitment to finding a new way forward.

As the SRG's review got underway, the ISA also found itself a new president in erstwhile Howth Yacht Club commodore David Lovegrove, whose tenure began earlier this month, and followed through on a New Year's resolution to wipe the slate clean and shake up the board, making room for Bannon and other members of the independent review group.

That brings us right up to date with the SRG's report, heard earlier this month by the ISA Board and released today, which doesn't pull its punches in acknowledging the "disenchantment and frustration" felt by a majority of the ISA's grassroots with the current situation.

Following a series of what Lovegrove describes as "open and frank" discussions with Ireland's sailing clubs, the SRG in its executive summary identified "a number of fundamental organisational issues at the root of the disconnection" between the ISA and its members.

Generally speaking, there is a view that the public perception of sailing in Ireland could be a lot better, with a number of barriers to entry that need to be addressed, and that the ISA's role as the sport's governing body is unclear and poorly communicated, exacerbated by a fragmented approach to organisation.

What the SRG identifies is the need for the ISA Board to "assert its authority" over the executive to ensure members needs are met and for its professional staff "to be more responsive to the relationship between the ISA and those directly involved in the sport - at various levels."

Importantly, the SRG says the ISA "needs to create a culture that encourages participation", and can do this by harnessing the goodwill, "experience and energy of volunteers" across Ireland's clubs. Rebuilding that relationship between the association and its members is also key to delivering value for money.

The SRG review proposes that the role and operation of the ISA board be changed, firstly with the creation of an executive committee and new policy groups, replacing the current advisory groups, to advise the board and "harness expertise from outside the board".

As well as a recommendation that the ISA's 2020 Vision be replaced with a detailed '4-Year Strategic Plan' focussing on the priorities identified by members, it's also proposed that the board meets with club officers individually on at least a biennial basis to overcome the "disconnect" between the ISA and its members.

Among the executive committee's responsibilities will be addressing weaknesses within the budgetary process to ensure that members feel their contributions will benefit all.

Meanwhile, among the policy groups will be one dedicated to changing the relationship between sailing and the public sector, involving more voices from the sailing community in the State funding process.

In terms of training, another policy group will develop new structures and supports for Ireland's clubs and training centres recognising the different needs at various levels, with a view towards encouraging younger talent from the ground up.

That's also the aim of the Participation & Access Policy Group, which will explore getting schools' sailing recognised as a PE activity in the new Junior Cert syllabus. And the Olympic & High Performance Policy Group will, among other things, be tasked with scouting for new talent outside of Pathway Class events.

The Racing Policy Group aims for mutual support across Ireland's classes in developing a national and regional sailing calendar to avoid clashes and encourage joint events wherever appropriate. And leisure sailing will be the focus of its own policy group, a reminder to the ISA that a large part of its membership are not involved in racing.

On the communications front, another policy group will look at how best the association can market its efforts within its membership and the public at large.

On Wednesday 9 April the ISA Board will meet again to approve the make-up of these policy groups, which will on to prepare their individual inputs to a holistic strategic plan to set out changes for the ISA ongoing.

It's expected that a final draft, after consultation with key stakeholders, will be published this summer, accompanied by a series of regional meetings to explain the plan - and most importantly, what it means for clubs and individual members.

The SRG report and David Lovegrove's introduction are available to download below, and we would love to hear what you make of it. Let us know in the comments below.

Published in ISA
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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