As was widely expected the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled offshore racing will not be on the programme for the Paris 2024 Games, choosing instead to split the kite discipline to male and female. What might be the consequences of this (late) decision on the flourishing mixed doubles scene and women’s access to offshore racing? Tip & Shaft reviewed the situation….
The decision was confirmed on Thursday 10 June. Despite World Sailing’s favourable democratic decision, offshore racing will not make an appearance on the Olympic programme for the Paris 2024 Games. The IOC considered that they had not receive sufficient guarantees on a certain number of issues (safety, costs, complexity, absence of previous tests, etc.).
While the announcement did not really surprise anyone who had an interest in offshore, it was very badly received by those who defended the case and especially the athletes who had made this event an important career objective. Such is particularly the case for the Belgian Jonas Gerckens who sums up: “I think that the IOC unfortunately missed the mark. When you see the craze that there is for doubles – and in my opinion, it will only grow more in the next few years – it’s a real shame, especially since we are removing a mixed event for an individual event which is divided into two parts.”
It is the same disappointment for American Ken Read, president of North Sails, Volvo Ocean Race skipper and former America’s Cup winner: “As my old boss Dennis Conner once told me ‘never bet against people’s self interest’ so that is unfortunate. I think is a real shame as it had a real opportunity to show sailing off in a different light in the Olympics at one of the most televised events in history. This had a chance to be different and get on television, human vulnerability, to show something different. So, I like many, many others am very disappointed.”
Double Olympic sailing champion, Shirley Robertson, who had embarked on the challenge alongside her compatriot Henry Bomby, does not hide her bitterness either, believing that the IOC is dealing a serious, untimely blow to women’s access to offshore racing: ” t is very frustrating because what this did was offer a very clear pathway for women into offshore sailing, to become very good sailors. It would have created a pool of women equally skilled who could and would have gone into The Ocean Race, the Vendée Globe and other pinnacle offshore events. I am so sad because this is such a real opportunity for long term good that has been missed. And the thing here is that gender equality is not about equality, 50:50 in terms of just numbers, it is about creating equality in skills and therefore in opportunities. This was bigger than that, this is an opportunity missed.”
Budgets frozen at the FFVoile
For some, this burial of Olympic of offshore racing means the end of the adventure, particularly in France. They were crowned European mixed doubles ocean racing champions last year but already Benjamin Schwartz and Marie Riou have made the decision to put an end to their project, which Schwartz confirms to us, awaiting the last stage of The Ocean Race Europe in Genoa (he sails, like Marie Riou, on Corum L’Épargne): “The project had real meaning if the discipline was Olympic, so we do not have the objective of keeping going to that goal. We will see if the dynamic takes anyway, but there will be no federation support. ”
Indeed, at the French Sailing Federation, the IOC’s announcement clearly put the brakes on the programme, to the point that France will probably not present a selected crew during the European and World Championships of offshore mixed doubles racing, which is scheduled for L30s in September as part of Nastro Rosa Tour, the Giro d’Italia.
FFV vice-president, Corinne Migraine confirms: “A lot of high-level funding was earmarked because there was an Olympic medal at stake, so it’s true that it will inevitably break that dynamic. With us, all the budgets that were to go towards this discipline have been frozen, the trainer Pascal Rambeau is no longer attached to it and it would surprise me that we send sailors to these two championships, especially since ‘they fall at a very bad time, during the Mini Transat and the Solitaire du Figaro. ”
“It’s not because there aren’t the Olympics
that we must bury the subject”
Conversely, some intend to continue, like the Jonas Gerckens / Sophie Faguet duo which intends to compete in these two summer championships: “The Belgian Federation is still following us at 200%, it expects to know the proposed programme for the next few years. What I hope is that World Sailing will still hold its lines and support a world championship, it is not because there is no the Olympics that we must bury the subject, “confirms Sophie Faguet.
That same ideal is held by Brit Dee Caffari, who defended the British colours at the 2020 European Championship alongside James Harayda: “The European and World Championships are definitely on our wish list. Obviously the recent decision does make us think about our long term plans, but in the short term our racing programme for this season remains unchanged. I am lucky that in the UK we have a very busy schedule of racing in home waters. We are entered into the inaugural UK Double Handed Offshore Series consisting of 6 events including the Fastnet. RORC have really embraced the double handed classes in its races and the RYA is supporting the UK Double Handed Offshore Series by sponsoring one of the categories.”
The RYA, according to its director of racing Ian Walker (double Olympic silver medalist and winner of the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-2015), however, no longer intends to carry out projects for the international events of the summer: “The RYA will select a team if people wish to go. We will no longer fund the team or a coach. I am not sure our planned extended Channel Race will be necessary as a selector but I think we have 1 or 2 teams still interested in going.”
World Sailing shows its support
Joined by Tip & Shaft, the Italian organizer of the European and World Championships, Riccardo Simoneschi, is still confident about the levels of participation: “As per today we had already 14 nations confirming their interest to participate and we will open the entries next Monday.” If these expressions of interest are confirmed, the two events should therefore take place this summer. …..But what next? For most of our respondents the IOC’s decision will not, however, put an end to an intense, exciting discipline which has grown considerably in recent years.
“Doublehanded Offshore Racing has been the fastest growing discipline in sailing for a number of years and will continue to be. It is unfortunate that the Olympics chose to not take advantage of the terrific media and virtual sports opportunities that the discipline offers as a result of the the long duration events and the human stories” said the American Stan Honey, who is part of the Oceanic and Offshore Committee of World Sailing.
CEO of World Sailing, the Englishman David Graham adds: “It’s really interesting to see what is happening in the world, not just in the Solent or in the west of France, the practice of shorthanded offshore racing is developing everywhere, we cannot ignore it. It is our responsibility to support this growth.” Ken Read adds: “My objective now is to make sure this momentum keeps going, Olympics or not. You learn the politics of the Olympics are so far beyond our control that you can’t rely on anything. If one person in Singapore decides that sailing should not be offshore in the Olympics, that is what it takes. So let us just move on and focus just on double handed sailing.”
World Sailing is counting on the Offshore Doubles Association launched last year by the American Larry Rosenfeld which now boasts 1,700 members in 70 countries. “We talk to each other very regularly, they have our full support,” confirms David Graham, who, granting Sophie Faguet’s wishes, wants an annual mixed doubles ocean racing world championship to continue to be organized every year after this ‘2021 edition. “The IOC’s decision is more a loss for the Olympics than for Offshore Doubles. It is the fastest growing segment of our sport and has very interesting stories to show and tell during long distance racing. It is also their loss to miss the considerable virtual games that would have happened around the offshore event. Hopefully World Sailing will again propose Mixed Offshore for 2028“, believes Larry Rosenfeld
Rebuild with a view to Los Angeles
That is a hope shared by many: it is really necessary to structure a process which many, like Ian Walker, consider Paris arrived too early. The double silver medallist summarises, “While I am a great supporter of offshore sailing and I think the discipline is great I do think it was getting pretty late in the day for the Paris Olympic Games. I think there were still quite a lot of unanswered questions. In terms of clarity and Paris and moving forwards there is no doubt it is the right decision. But hopefully now offshore can use this time to get organised to come back strong in 2028. Clearly World Sailing need to look at how they go about this.”
RYA’s director of racing adds: “I think critically we need a boat. Maybe they should have a design competition and create some cheap, sustainable, double handed mixed boat and then if that is good enough then people will invest in it. Because I think that is the unanswered question.”
For the FFV’s Corinne Migraine, the ball is also in the court of World Sailing: “The next mission of World Sailing will be to propose a sufficiently attractive objective so that the various federations and the athletes want to continue in the double offshore race.” To which David Graham replied: “I think the offshore community sees the IOC’s decision as a postponement, we have to put in place a process in view of Los Angeles, I am confident that we will find the right formula.”
A good formula which for our respondents must continue to promote diversity. “Access to offshore sailing for women is growing and I’m sure will continue to do so. Having increasing involvement of women in offshore sailing is a goal for everyone including, men, women, event organizers, sponsors…”, considers Stan Honey.
“It is absolutely clear that this Olympic event would have provided a clear pathway for female sailors with a proven, clear skill set as good as their male counterparts. It may therefore slow the growth of opportunities available but I do believe that we are making progress in this field, albeit slower than we would all like to see”, notes Dee Caffari who is echoed by Sophie Faguet: “It will not call into question the movement which is being set up internationally, we can see forward momentum with The Ocean Race, the Magenta Project… ”
For her part the French former 470 ace Mathilde Geron, who, along with Pierre Leboucher, was also part of this Olympic goal, wants to be positive: “I still have the impression that the mixed race is coming more and more to the fore. I’m glad I wasn’t born ten years earlier, because there weren’t so many opportunities”. The former 470 specialist will do the Fastnet in August with Luke Berry in Class40 and “hopes to climb on a Multi50 next year.”
Photo: Stefano Robotti / SSI Events