2016 events decision hailed a 'real step forward' 

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RYA Performance Director John Derbyshire has urged ISAF to seize the opportunity to showcase sailing’s diversity to make Olympic Classes racing even more exciting and accessible for competitors and spectators following the selection of events for Rio 2016.

The RYA applauded ISAF’s decision to introduce a new women’s skiff event and revive a multihull event for mixed crews (one man, one woman) as part of the new 10 event ‘slate’, saying the events now provide a clear pathway, particularly for girls, for transitioning from Youth to Olympic Classes campaigning.  

The next challenge for ISAF is to decide the format of racing for Rio and what class of equipment will be used, not only for the women’s skiff and multihull but also for the men and women’s board or kiteboard event that was also agreed as part of the 2016 slate.  

John believes decisions on format and equipment should go hand-in-hand to ensure the 2016 Games take advantage of this “green light to change and cement the diversity of the sport” to increase its appeal on and off the water.  

He said: “I would urge ISAF to look at the event format at the same time as deciding on the equipment and choose, or design, equipment that best suits the style of racing they want to progress with to make the sport as exciting as possible for participants and spectators.  

“There is an excellent opportunity to distinguish, and celebrate, the diversity between skiff ‘stadium format’ close-quarters type racing and traditional 470 racing, for example. The 49er class has been trialling the ‘stadium’ format, with short, sharp eight-minute races, heats and upwind and downwind gates taking place close inshore to fit spectators around the sides of it. Such a format would provide another exciting dimension to the sport.  

“Kiteboarding also has the chance to show how it can add value to the Olympic sailing programme, not as another piece of kit that goes around a course but by offering something entirely new and different with mass appeal that could potentially even prompt ISAF to go back to the IOC and ask for two more medals.     

“The skiff and multihull will lend themselves to whichever event format ISAF decide to progress with, but it would present a real step forward if we were to see some variation in racing style across the slate.”  

The ‘real step forward’ John refers to in particular is the opportunity the introduction of a women’s skiff presents in encouraging more females to get into, and stay involved, in Olympic Classes pathway sailing. 

Ever since the first indication ISAF was considering a women’s skiff event for 2016, the RYA has been working on initiatives to encourage highly-competitive women dinghy racers, who may have dropped out of racing current Olympic Classes boats yet still regularly compete on high-performance asymmetric double-hander circuits, to consider a potential 2016 campaign while also educating female Youth 29er sailors as to opportunities on the horizon.  

One of these programmes – Girls 4 Gold Women’s Skiff Open Training weekends – gets underway at Hayling Island this weekend (14-15 May) with another weekend in the diary at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on 18-19 June.  

Open to any female aged 17 or over who has ever wondered what Olympic Classes sailing is all about, the weekends are being run by all-female coaching and support teams to offer tips on RS800 rig-tuning and the chance to sail in some of the women’s skiff classes in contention for 2016 (Rebel, 29erXX and RS900) while providing insights into life on the Olympic campaign trail. They are NOT trial weekends, simply tasters for interested sailors for whom the introduction of a women’s skiff opens up the door to an Olympic campaign.  

John continues: “A lot of work has been done on why girls drop out of the sport after Youth sailing. It maybe because the current slate of Olympic Classes doesn’t provide them with a viable pathway, for example the 470 is very size dependant, while types of training and coaching programmes have also been looked at. The most important thing now is we give females the chance to try a variety of boats and get a better idea about campaigning.   

“We have also had support from the RS800 class to provide women with the opportunity to race regularly in competitive high-performance asymmetric double-handed club and Open fleets. The RS800 class has changed its rules to allow sheeting off the boom so that by the time the decision is made on the 2016 equipment, and we don’t expect any decisions before November 2012, sailors will have had some good, competitive racing under their belts so they can hit the ground running if they do then chose to pursue a 2016 Olympic campaign.”  

John admits he is sad to see the end of the Star’s 79-year Olympic association and that the women’s Match Racing event has not been as successful as it was hoped. However he believes the new events present the opportunity to provide a fresh injection of life to sailing around the world.  

He added: “Match Racing is a brilliant format and we hope through its Olympic involvement the women’s match racing circuit has established itself and can continue to thrive as a non-Olympic discipline. We will certainly be doing what we can to help it do so.  

“I also struggle to think that keelboats don’t have a place in the Olympics but the Star and the three previous attempts to establish a women’s keelboat event have drawn from a very small talent pool when looked at from a worldwide perspective, and that seems to be the message from the ISAF meeting. Maybe the keelboat community needs to come back with a proposal for a new open, modern keelboat event that is more representative of keelboat racing globally in the future.  

"What we have now however, is an exciting opportunity to have a very connected Youth to Olympic pathway. We have been plugging away for 10 years to try to complete this circle and although it has been a long, slow process for change, that change is now underway. We look forward to supporting a new crop of women sailors on their Olympic journeys.”