Think differently, be bold, be passionate: this is what the International Olympic Committee has told sports federations and World Sailing has embraced it full on for Paris 2024.
Last week in Sarasota, Florida, the governing body of sailing voted for there to be an offshore sailing class at the 2024 Olympic Games. It will be the longest ever sporting event at the Olympics (both in time and distance) and feature a mixed crew of two – answering the IOCs calls for diversity across the 10 Olympic sailing disciplines proposed to the IOC by World Sailing.
France is the home of offshore yacht racing and Brittany on the west coast is a breeding ground for home-grown French talent. To have the first ever offshore sailing Olympic event in Marseille is a perfect match and an exciting development for our sport for a number of reasons:
1. A voice at the table. Up until now, offshore sailing was largely ignored by World Sailing, despite regattas being held in over 50 countries, across 6 continents and competed at by over 50% of sailors in the sport. This brings the discipline front and centre and, most importantly bang alongside the other Olympic dinghy classes. We (those of us with an interest in the adventure side of the sport) at last have a voice at the table.
2. Diversity: a mixed crew of two is great and there will also be a wide age range. In the last Vendée Globe (solo, non-stop around the world), the oldest competitor was 66, the youngest was just 23, and the eventual winner, Armel Le Cléac’h was 41. I don’t think Oscar Swahn will lose his crown as the oldest ever Olympic Gold medallist (at 64 at the Stockholm Olympics in 1924), but you never know …
3. Time zones: with 24-hour racing for multiple days there will be ‘live’ competition to watch wherever you are in the world. Simple as that.
4. ‘And now going live to …..’: we’ve never before been able to speak to competitors live during the racing, but that can all change. Imagine speaking to Paula Radcliffe during the marathon: ‘Hey Paula, how’s it going?’. This is a reality in the sport of offshore sailing and will be fully expected by the competitors. Written in to the Sailing Instructions (the rules governing the racing), every team could be obliged to speak to the Olympic Channel during the actual race and with live feeds off the boats 24/7: to see and hear exactly what’s going on.
5. You can take part too! Fancy your hand at offshore sailing? If Virtual Regatta can secure a licence from the IOC, it will be possible for a global audience to line up against all the sailors in the actual Olympics. With live weather data throughout the regatta and identical ‘boats’ you can be on the water and racing against these Olympians in real-time. A great opportunity for sailing to reach a much broader audience – even those who have never set foot in a boat.
While the Equipment Committee at World Sailing grapples with what equipment the offshore sailing class should use, my vote would firmly be for a ‘foiling’ boat. Foiling has been around for nearly 100 years, but in the last decade the popularity has boomed and the technology is driving forward the most incredible innovations. There is quite rightly concern from some of the MNAs (Member National Authorities) about the costs of these foiling boats, however sailing should look to equestrianism as an example. No riders own their own horses they are loaned from businesses or individuals – this could be the exact same set up for Olympic offshore sailing, with the added bonus that the owners of the boats could actually sail them outside of competition.
We helped write the original white paper for World Sailing to present to the IOC to secure a test event in Japan, and last week’s vote is not without controversy as the popular Finn class has been moved aside to make way for offshore sailing. I hope that once people see the quality of the sailors lining up and the possibilities to reach new audiences the collective feeling will be that the positives outweigh the negatives.
Who will take home the very first offshore sailing Olympic Gold in six years time? The easy money will be on the French, but I for one will be keeping a close eye across La Manche at our own homegrown talent here in the UK. I think there could be some surprises come Paris 2024.
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