With the IPC Executive Committee once again stating this weekend that neither sailing nor 7-a-side football will be able to be reincluded on 2020 Summer Paralympics, two divergent stories emerge as both sports look forward to potential reinclusion on the program for the 2024 Summer Paralympics.
Going into the bidding process for inclusion on the 2020 Program, both sports were in periods of governance transition. In November 2014, International Federation of Disability Sailing formally merged into the International Sailing Federation. On January 1 of this year, 7-a-side football left the umbrella of CPISRA, the international multisport federation governing cerebral palsy, to be their own independent international sport federation (ISF), International Federation of CP Football (IFCPF). These changes in governance came between the first and second round of the IPC bidding process, with provisional IPC recognition for ISAF and IFCPF only extended this weekend.
In the immediate aftermath of the March 1 decision, both sports had national federations and programs pressuring them to act as much of the funding for both sports is contingent upon the sports being on the Paralympic program: No Paralympics, no money. Some programs that were already in jeopardy appeared to be in greater jeopardy. This was the case for 7-a-side football in Australia that had already lost funding as the country did not see them as a potential medal winner in Rio. Other programs looked like they would have immediate funding cuts, or funding would immediately stop once Rio was done. This was the case for sailing in Brazil and Norway. In sailing, there was the added issue of concern about the economics of boat builders, who foresaw losses in revenue if their classes were not on the Paralympic program, with the trickle down participation on the social level leading to less boat sales.
Supporters of both sports created petitions and initiatives to try to draw attention to their sports, and the consequences of not being on the Paralympic program. Sailing managed to get much more visibility for their sport and its plight, with petitions being submitted to at least one national Parliament asking that the IPC reconsider their decision. Sailing managed to outpace 7-a-side football in the total number of people signing petitions, and in the larger sport community visibility of them.
As this was going on though, the IPC made clear that neither sport was going to be re-included on the program for 2020. The IPC told journalists that pathways discussed by some in the community were only for the Olympics, and the Paralympic policy was different. This message that the decision was not open for discussion was consistent since the announcement was first made. Still, both ISFs made public cases, and asking the IPC both privately, publicly and through the media to reconsider their decision. Of the two, disability sailing was louder and more visible, with Bernard Destrubé releasing statements to sailing news friendly sites and giving interviews with them. IFDS and ISAF both made loud, public commitments to try to get sailing back on the Paralympic program for 2020, and encouraged their member national associations (MNAs) to continue to lobby and press for this.
As the message that the IPC decision was not going to be re-opened, community members in both sports started to take divergent paths for how they spoke to their membership. In the case of sailing, people in leadership positions began to accuse the IPC of having it out for sailing, of saying that the IPC violated their own policies and had no right to remove sailing from the Paralympic program. Behind the scenes, people in the sailing community talked about the possibility of taking the IPC to court in Germany over their decision or seeing if there were pathways to go through the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get the sport on the program. While sailing was working on an antagonistic approach for potential reinclusion, 7-a-side football appeared to back off. Leadership largely avoided the media, did not make loud statements, and avoided criticizing too loudly the IPC decision based on the merits of their application.
Institutional decisions for how to handle the initial response to the news might have been a result of leaked IPC documents regarding both sports bids for Paralympic inclusion. The ones for sailing appeared more damning than the ones for 7-a-side football, and the IPC has said that 7-a-side football was closer to the required participation totals than sailing was. Sailing’s application appeared to be the weaker of the two, and overall the sport is less integrated into the Paralympic movement through multi-sport single disability ISFs and National Paralympic Committee (NPC) integration. There was also a lot more internal criticism of failing leadership directed at sailing from its own members than there was coming from the 7-a-side football camp.
Both sports responded to the news of the sport being cut by sending out surveys to their MNAs to get a better idea of the state of the sport in their countries. The ISAF survey sent to MNAs was seven questions long, and the response rate from ISAF’s 142 plus members was around 28.1%. This contrasts with CPISRA, which also sent out a longer and more detailed survey to its 69 MNAs and had a response rate of 50.7%. Sailing was begging for its MNAs to respond on various social media channels, while 7-a-side football was more active behind the scenes trying to quietly get a response rate by reaching out to MNAs individually.
The pathways followed by both sports following their surveys also differed. CPISRA and IFCPF hired an independent consultant to examine their surveys and write up a detailed report about the state of the sport. This report was then given to MNAs and made available to the public in mid-April.
The IFCPF document said, “There are currently 4210 athletes competing in CP Football worldwide, including more than 1000 athletes fifteen years of age or younger. These athletes are supported by 121 national team coaches and a further 657 active certified coaches within the CP Football system, and the health of the sport is further demonstrated by the presence of 370 CP Football club teams, currently providing regular competitive and practice opportunities for 3549 athletes. Finally, and most importantly, the IFCPF has verified that a total of 29 member countries across 5 regions have met the IPC’s 3 widely and regularly practicing criteria, and therefore CP Football has met the team sport criteria to be eligible for selection to the sport program at the Paralympic Games.” The report also showed growth numbers year to year for domestic competitions, and international competitions. The survey asked MNAs if they had a national competition, and they found there were 18 countries with annual national championships. It also found that three countries, India, Thailand and Tunisia, had created championships in 2014, and Canada had launched a championship in 2015. This document was used as part of the sport’s lobbying efforts to get 7-a-side football back on the Paralympic program.
The survey results published by the IFCPF and their public release stand in stark contrast to sailing, with neither ISAF nor ISAF Disability Sailing Committee having published the results of their post Paralympic cut survey for consumption by the wider sailing community. They have not made participation numbers public, provided any documentation of growth of the sport, failed to include in their survey questions about national championships, nor included requests for total sailors participating nationally on any level, or information on development and youth national squad.
Cerebral palsy football leadership tried to make the case that they met the criteria and provided date to support their case. Sailing leadership responded by stating without evidence they met the criteria, and that the IPC was acting against them because of a dislike of their sport. Cerebral palsy football leadership tried a more conciliatory approach. saying in their request to the IPC, “The IFCPF greatly appreciates and values the support of the IPC throughout the process to establish the Tokyo 2020 sport program, and have fully recognized the requirement to collect and monitor information from our members in a more standardized format to ensure CP Football continues to expand and achieve its full potential.”
Both sports had problems with their Paralympic program applications in regards to participation. The documentation both sports initially submitted for participation totals to the IPC was brief, and in the case of cerebral palsy football, was less than a page. Sailing was slightly longer at around three pages. Both documents had issues though when it came to the IPC’s ability to authentic their stated numbers, which the IPC has stated they sought to independently do. This problem was a great deal more problematic for sailing than it was for 7-a-side football, because as an individual sport, they needed to meet a higher participation number of 28. If the IPC was using ranking information ranking information, sailing and 7-a-side football’s numbers did not add up, though for different reasons. The 7-a-side football rankings may have been higher than 20, but the teams did not appear to competing often enough at the elite level, with several teams having no points. Sailing had issues with count, as individual class participation did not add up to 35, no matter which way you counted. If the IPC was looking at international classification master lists, both sports also came up short with neither sport having the required minimums for participation via that avenue. Neither sport provided documentation to the IPC to demonstrate participation based on total number of ISF recognized national championships, and both sports lacked a way to even make trying to get this data difficult is there was no central gathering point for information about these competitions.
While sailing and 7-a-side football may have had good potential cases for inclusion based on actual participation at the time of their applications, neither sport adequately demonstrated this to the IPC, who were in turn unable to independently verify claims they did. It was only after the sports were cut that both sent surveys, and it was only after all other options for Paralympic game inclusion were gone that one sport, 7-a-side football, provided documentation that actually support these claims. An IPC representative told ParaSport News that both organizations should have done these surveys earlier, before they submitted their applications.
Since the decision, organizational activities have also greatly differed in terms of how to formulate a response. Sailing took a long time to come up with a development plan for the sport, one that had to pass through channels that were not necessarily supportive of disability sailing and had not appeared to support IFDS much during their bid process. These channels appeared very conservative, risk averse, unable to leverage their position as the ISF to get MNAs to act. It also appears that committees and groups that could act met with a lot of resistance because the organization was unhappy with both internal and external criticism being aimed at them. When the plan was unveiled, it was six pages long, including a cover page with the text of the plan not being widely shared, not linked in the press release by ISAF.
Highlights of the report are a rubric to determine eligibility for the program, with eligibility based on willingness to implement a program, readiness to implement a program and ability to implement a program based on MNA self-assessment submitted to ISAF. They have identified 27 countries who might be eligible. The development program would require MNAs travel to either Weymouth, United Kingdom for five days or potentially Australia. Participation would be limited to 4 members of any MNA, with a maximum of two sailors, one coach and one MNA representative, with priority on the sailing side given to women and sailors under the age of nineteen. Travel funding of up to 50% of costs would be provided to no more than 30 participants. ISAF will require as a condition of funding that MNAs provide follow up to ISAF. Their development plan also includes informing the media about this.
Other parts of the development plan include arranging regional classifier events, and creating a new “Disabled Sailing World Championships ‘Emerging Nations’ fund” to allow nations to compete in the 2015 Disabled Sailing World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. ISAF will work with volunteers who have already stepped forward to deliver practical clinics nationally through their MNAs. They will also produce promotional materials for DPD clinics, and the creation of a dedicated Paralympic Development Program review video. ISAF proposed a budget of GBP£105,000 for these activities.
Between the announcement of the cut and the announcement of the new development program 2 weeks ahead of the IPC Executive Committee meeting, almost nothing appears to have been done to develop the sport, with racing events carrying on as usual and no disability sailing development programs affiliated with ISAF taking place. If such programs were taking part, these were not being promoted by ISAF, their MNA, nor other stakeholders.
This contrasts starkly with 7-a-side football. While they have not announced any new major development plans, they have announced individual development activities. They held a coach and classification workshop in El Salvador, with people participating from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Haiti. They highlighted efforts to develop the sport in Chile, with the national team having their first camp. They mentioned that this camp was being run with support of Chile’s NPC. They announced a new member of IFCPF, Nigeria, and that IFCPF development related activities were now taking place in the country.
The IFCPF is vastly different to sailing and is not about gathering players from different countries into one central location, with a focus on developing the sport on a truly international level by those already placed to deliver it, but about going to individual countries, and inviting players, coaches and classifiers to attend. IFCPF has also created a grants program to allow MNAs to request a development program for their country to take place in their country. Some events are purely nationally targeted, while others are regionally targeted. IFCPF also stands in contrast to ISAF in that they work on getting players from less developed countries to countries where the sport is more developed, to give them access to and connections to training, coaches and valuable international experience from elite countries. Sailing’s route is completely different, and is about supporting only those who can prove they want to support the sport, and they will be supported only at two events that require expensive travel away from their home country.
Another area of difference between the two sports has been in the number of events being held, and their ability to draw attention to the results. The number of announced events also appears to have been low. Since that initial decision, only around three or four major disability sailing events appear to have taken place, with the results for some events on the disability side not being readily available to know if scheduled competitions actually took place or they were canceled owing to low participation numbers. A lot of activity from stakeholders has been reaffirming their decision to try to get sailing back on the 2020 Program, or promoting race results.
In contrast, 7-a-side football has worked hard to tout their high world championship, the sport at the ASEAN Games, the sport at the Parapan American Games, the sport at the World Games and other major competitions. When IFCPF and CPISRA are not promoting 7-a-side football, their stakeholders are actively promoting them across all levels. This includes event organizers, MNAs, NPCs, regional sports governing bodies, and individual stakeholders like players and coaches. IFCPF have also worked to promote national events, highlighting activities going on where the sport is less traditionally popular in countries like Tunisia, and in more traditional footballing countries like Argentina. They have provided summaries of friendly matches, and disseminated this information to the media. They have provided updates on how Paralympic qualification is going, and how teams are faring.
The emerging funding picture differs for both sports. While sailing appears to only have bad news with funds being cut since the announcement, 7-a-side football has seen new partnerships with NPCs and FIFA affiliated football MNAs. One program, Australia, that had announced funding cuts before saw new funding emerge at a higher rate than the previous cuts.
Both sports have taken very different paths towards their approach to 2020 and 2024 following sailing and 7-a-side football being cut from the Paralympic program. Sailing has taken a confrontational approach, blaming the IPC for their problems, focusing on the sport as a truly international one which brings people together in various parts around the globe, with the idea that if you are ready to participate, you will. They have opted for a less transparent approach, of not engaging with their stakeholders, of not providing stakeholders and the public with information. Their focus is on delivering minimal programs, that require travel to get to. In contrast, football has taken a transparent approach. They have sought to professionalize, and deliver programs locally where the sport will be played. This brings the costs of participation down for everyone involved, and allows for immediate implementation. Football has opted to take a more conciliatory approach with the IPC, acknowledge that the IPC did a lot of hard and important work, and that their initial application had problems. They have completed a survey, made the details public, and now can be held accountable via these numbers for the sports continued growth.
One sport looks placed to potentially be back on the program for 2024, and one sport appears to be headed towards irrelevancy as it refuses to chance. Cerebral palsy football should be cheered for the steps they have taken to fix what was wrong, and dedicating itself towards delivering high quality sport around the world to people with cerebral palsy.