The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) has recently mandated their “Olympic Commission” to examine the strengths and weaknesses of Sailing in the Olympic Games; to compare with other sports and to make recommendations for the future of Olympic Sailing.
The report, presented to the ISAF mid-year conference, has been a wake up call for many, although the contents did not come as a surprise.
The key issues identified by the Olympic Commission are:
- Increase Universality: in other words, make the sport more popular, to get more nations and especially young people involved. While Sailing is particularly strong in Europe and North America, there is a significant lack of interest in the emerging nations
- Expanding Qualification Opportunities: athletes and nations should be able to qualify at more than one opportunity (not just the world championships)
- Building Popularity: How can Sailing become more attractive for the live audience as well as the media
- Improving Event Structure: Create a clear pathway from bottom to top, finally leading to the Olympics
- Enhancing the Olympic Games: The Olympics as the pinnacle event every four years should demonstrate the diversity and skills of the leading young athletes from all nations, and provide entertaining coverage
While Kiteboarding is not yet an Olympic Sailing Class, it seems that many of the requirements and changes that the Olympic Commission suggests are already in place in the world of international Kiteboarding, and as a result, Kiteboarding could become Sailings “White Knight” - gaining back attraction and attention for the Olympic Sailing Programme.
- Increasing Universality: Kiteboarding is especially strong in emerging regions, due to the ease of administration (no rigid one design class), the low costs of equipment (Kiteboarding would be by far the cheapest Olympic Sailing Equipment), ease of transportation (Kiteboarding equipment fits in the back of every standard car and can be taken on every plane as standard luggage), ease of water access (no expensive marinas are needed), and world wide availability.
Kiteboarding also attracts the youth of the world, as it is considered a “fun orientated extreme-sport” and has only little to do with “old fashioned sailing” as it is seen by many young people.
- Expanding Qualification Opportunities: Kiteboarding comes with a world wide series of events, well structured into national, continental and world class competitions. Every discipline has its own world ranking which gives an accurate picture of every athletes and nations performance at every time of the year.
Continental Tours and Championships are in place, providing enough possibilities to cover the requirements of Olympic Qualification Systems
- Building Popularity: Kiteboarding is colorful, fast, thrilling and full of action. Kiteboarding events in all disciplines can be held close to the beach, as competition can take place in knee deep water. Through the long lines of the kites wind cover is not an issue. This brings the action close to the spectators and the media, while reducing television production costs.
Tracking systems with live coverage to the spectators on the beach and the internet have been extensively and successfully tested.
Kiteboarding competitions are short: elimination series competitions (using a K.O. format) can be completed easily in one or two days, races in fleet racing are short and thrilling, allowing for up to eight races per day. This makes for events that cost less, and create more tension from the start to finish.
- Improving Event Structure: Kiteboarding has a clear structure from bottom to top, with a clear pathway for young sailors up to the pro’s. Youth competitions take place with exactly the same equipment as world championship competitions. With a free choice of equipment, every competitor has a fair chance to pick the equipment that fits him best, allowing for true fair competition on equal opportunities.
- Enhancing the Olympic Games: Sailing Competitions need to become spectacular for media and live audience. Kiteboarding Competitions already include “Events” around the competition, in average attracting several ten thousands of visitors per event. Sporting action on the highest level teams up with a festival for the visitors, entertaining them even when there is no wind and giving the media something to talk about. Major kiteboarding events usually produce app. 400 hours of TV coverage per event, and countless hits on the internet including internet TV, as well as articles in newspapers and magazines.
There is something more to note on the Olympic Commissions report.
The Olympic Commission suggests longer planning cycles for the chosen equipment, with 8 core events and 2 specialty events for “new and exciting sailing disciplines”. Whilst we appreciate this honor (as we interpret Kiteboarding as one of these “new and exciting sailing disciplines”) – there have not been so many other exciting developments in the past - and even look forward to Kiteboarding's participation in the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro under the strategy of the ISAF Olympic Commissions report, we do not believe that the conclusions of the ISAF Olympic Commission go far enough to preserve Sailing a place in the Olympic Games in the long term.
For this reason, the IKAs own Olympic Commission will present Kiteboardings own ideas, for a radical new approach, in the next days.