The French Olympic Sailing Week of Hyères-Toulon Provence Méditerranée starts on April 23. And so it is a good opportunity for Tip & Shaft to catch up with the President of the FFV, the French Sailing Federation, Jean-Luc Dénéchau and discuss the Paris 2024 Games, the America’s Cup, the general dynamism of offshore and ocean racing as well as the conflict between François Gabart and the Ultim 32/23 class.
So Jean-Luc how is the French Olympic Week looking?
Well were are happy to see it all happening again, because it has been two years since we were last able to organize it. We are expecting a big participation, around 700 competitors. And there will be a full French team, plus the youth team And so it will allow us to validate the work done over this last winter and to move forward towards the focal points of the season which are the world and European championships of each class. The idea is not to just about making a podium at all costs, we are in part of an Olympic preparation.
How are things going on the Marseille side? We are still waiting for a first test, when is it planned?
All the French teams are based in Marseille in the provisional France centre, since we have left the old one which has been knocked down, we are at the foundations stage of the new centre. We wanted to organize a test-event this year, but the city hall was not ready to receive the competitors, so we are not doing it. Today, the Cojo (French Olympic Committee) has the ambition to organize one in the summer of 2023 but even then the work will not be finished, since there is talk of delivery in the Autumn of 2023.
Isn’t this all later than expected? And if so, how do you explain that?
Yes, it’s later than expected. It’s always a bit complicated, there are problems with funding, building permits, time limits for appeals and so on. I also think that the change in governance at the city hall of Marseille has meant that maybe the appetite for the Olympic Games is not now the same today as it was before. We were also informed that the stand on the Corniche has been withdrawn from the project, the city presenting the file to the Cojo who then accepted that this key element of the file could be removed. It is now awaiting a new proposal to allow paying spectators access to an area to watch the medal races.
What is the overall budget of the Olympic campaign for the French team?
We are in the same area as in the previous ones, namely, depending on the year, between 2 and 2.5 million euros per year.
A little over two years out from the Games, what are the reasonable objectives of the French team? And how many medals might you dream of winning in Marseille?
The objective I have set is to do better than in Tokyo, where we had three medals. We organized ourselves, staffed and programmed to get that. Beyond that I don’t want to set a precise number of medals, but we do have the potential to be in the hunt in almost all the classes.
“A very unifying project
for the Cup”
Let’s talk about another big event that will also take place in 2024, the America’s Cup, how do you view the choice of Barcelona to host the 37th edition?
It is pleasing to see that the Cup taking place in Europe, it shows how dynamic sailing is on this continent. And for a team setting out like there is it’s easier than setting up and racing at the other end of the world.
You are quite bullish about a French team what do you know about this team?
Obviously there is something going on. The Federation looks favorably on the people who are setting out on this adventure, and depending on the seriousness of the projects, there will obviously be the possibility of issuing the French national team designation for the America’s Cup. Meantime you have to give everyone a little time to set up their project.
Are there several projects, or just one based around Stéphane Kandler?
For the moment this is the only project and it seems unifying, which can only be good for a federation president. A lot of planets that are in the process of aligning, it’s extremely positive, now, we have to succeed in converting goodwill and good feelings into a permanent funding basis. That has always been the difficulty of the challenges we’ve had until now. But for the moment, I am confident, this desire is really within the spirit of Team France and the overall objective also being to open up to worlds which are a little wider than just the America’s Cup.
“For the Ultimes
negotiation is difficult”
Let’s move to offshore and ocean racing which is currently experiencing a very prosperous period, to the point that many races are full and turning people away, what is your view?
It’s always exciting to see such periods, even if it necessarily makes you think about the best way to manage all of this but we can only be delighted to see the how dynamic it is all on the sporting side, but also with regard to sponsors and partners who realise what they can get from our sport. All this also generates a strong financial economy, offshore racing is beginning to take a very important place in the nautical industries.
138 boats at the start of the Route du Rhum, what inspires you?
It’s fantastic, it shows both the power of this legendary race and the true desire of the competitors to go and measure themselves up to the legend. And that 138 people find budgets proves that our sport offers many different opportunities.
Among these 138, there will be some Ultims, what is the feeling of the president of the federation about this conflict which has pitted François Gabart’s team against the Ultim 32/23 class for several months?
A federation president is here to for the greater good and the wider organisation so when I saw at the beginning of the year that this conflict was still going on, I proposed to organize a mediation so that people could talk to each other, which was done [on 16 February during a meeting bringing together all the boat owners, Editor’s note]. There have since been other meetings with all of the owners, the negotiation is difficult, positions are sometimes frozen but there has also been progress. Right now I would say that there is a willingness to pause in the negotiations, I hope that everyone is still keen to continue debating and discussing so that everyone can continue to race in good conditions within this Ultim class.
“A federation does not have the mandate
to certify a boat”
The Ultim 32/23 class had recourse to World Sailing, does the international federation have a say on such a subject?
From a purely regulatory point of view, World Sailing, which enacts and updates the OSR [international Offshore Special Regulations rules], can respond to requests for interpretation, but it remains an interpretation which is of a general nature in relation to a question posed. A federation, whether national or international, does not have the mandate to certify a boat. The crux of the problem revolves around this famous rule 3.11 and it is therefore up to the class, via its measurer and its monitoring committee, to solve it, because the certificate of conformity of a boat is issued by the class.
In this case, the supervisory committee issued a favorable opinion which was not followed, did the class not respect its rules?
We can’t say that: each class has its own mode of operation and within the Ultim class, the supervisory committee has an advisory role. So it gives an opinion, then there is a vote by the office or the board of directors on this opinion.
Does this conflict raise a problem of governance within this class?
Everyone can make their own observations; a class is an association which enacts its own statutes, its rules of procedure, its mode of decision-making and monitoring, to ensure that its members work and race together, even if at this level, the game undoubtedly has another dimension. So to join, you have to accept these rules.
Let’s finish with the situation of the FFVoile today, what is the number of licensees to date? And the budget?
Compared to our benchmark year, 2019, before the Covid, we have found our young licensees are making good progress in terms of numbers as we are at +5%. We also have a good momentum in all things leisure sailing, since we have increased the number of sailing passports by 14%, which shows our fellow citizens are looking to find and enjoy outdoor and nature activities. Where we have work to do is to win back our loyal adult licensees, since we are down 3% compared to 2019. As for the budget, it is constant, from 14.7 million euros, 40% provided by sailing licenses and passports, 38% by public subsidies, 10% by partners, 8% by the shop, the remaining 4% being miscellaneous specific receipts from the different services of the federation.
Photo: Sailing Energy