As a disability sport reporter, I think I finally understand my sport journalist beat reporters who write about the same team or league day in and day out. You get to the point where you feel like you have this unnatural investment in your team and league. I’ve reached that point with sailing, except instead of saying “Sack the coach! He’s the reason the team always loses!” or “Hire a new GM! The recent signings have cost too much and under-performed!”, I offer equally helpful advice like, “Reorganize everything!” or “Write a new strategic plan! Why can’t you write a new strategic plan?”
With the IPC having made clear that they are happier working with ISAF and everyone should be thinking forward to the 2024 Paralympic program inclusion efforts, I’ve been thinking about what sailing can do to achieve the stated participation goals. The first is, as stated earlier, write a new strategic plan that aligns with the IPC’s selection criteria. Without writing a whole plan here, a basic outline might look something like this with a particular focus on growing and developing disability sailing’s participation numbers:
- Insure high quality events take place that allow sailors on all levels to succeed in the sport based on their desired level of participation and competition. This includes on the Olympic and Paralympic, alongside with local regattas.
- Improve the overall reach of sailing, both in terms of globally growing participation rates, increasing participation rates in existing ISAF territories where sailing is well support and in terms of reaching the broader sports market.
- Insure the universality of sailing, making sailing accessible to the widest demographic group possible, including based on gender, economic status, and ability.
- Increase participation of national disability sailing teams from the current number of 18 per year as of 2015 to to 35 per year by 2019.
- Increase participation of national disability sailing teams continental zone wise from 2 per zone as of 2015 to 5 to 9 per zone by 2019.
- Have 28 national disability teams participating in the world championships by 2017.
- Develop new classification system and disability class boats by mid-2016 with a goal of minimizing cost for acquiring boats and being more inclusive of all disability types, including intellectual disabilities and deaf sports.
- Develop better relationships with the IPC and NPCs, and get disability sailing committee members more involved behind the scenes in IPC governance, with at least 1 serving on an IPC committee by 2018, have sailing MNAs continue their membership as NPCs where membership is based on sport, and having sailing MNAs as members of at least 5 NPCs where they are currently not on where the sailing MNA is not currently a member by 2017.
- Sign MOUs with at least three major disability sport organizations such as IBSA, INAS, IWAS, CPISRA, ICDS or Special Olympics by late 2016, and work towards getting sailing on at least two of their world multi-sport event programs such as the IBSA World Games, IWAS World Games, INAS Global Games, or Special Olympics World Games by late 2017 for an event held prior to 2020.
- Work to get disability sailing included on at least three regional or similar multi-sport events like the Commonwealth Games, Parapan American Games, Para Asian Youth Games, Para Central American and Caribbean Games, Youth Parapan American Games, Black Sea Games, Lusophony Games, Mediterranean Games, Island Games, Pacific Games, Jeux de la Francophonie, South American Games, etc. by late 2017 for an event held prior to 2020.
- Where sailing is on an existing multi-sport existing event program, maintain the presence of sailing in future versions and increase national participation from event edition to event edition by 20%.
- Appoint regional development officers on the continental level, and at least four zones inside each continental zone based on traditional national groupings. By 2018, each zone should have at least 10 ISAF level 1 certified coaches, and at least 5 ISAF approved international classifiers.
- Create a back end data system that allows MNAs, NPCs and regatta organizers to easily enter race results, and track national team participation totals, and overall participation sailor totals by sailor type, classification, boat and nationality by mid-2016.
There are a whole lot of other things that could be added here but development appears to be the biggest priority, one that ISAF appears to have singularly failed to address since this story broke. The one brief conversation I had via e-mail with an ISAF development officer did not leave me with a whole lot of confidence that a development plan existed. After 30 hours, Training and Development Manager Dan Jaspers has not responded to a request for data about how many countries does ISAF have ongoing relationships with in terms of having disability sailing development programs with. He also did not answer a question about how many grants, specifically for disability sailing, ISAF has you given out, and what the break down is on a per country basis. He also did not provide any data about the follow up to the 2015 ISAF Development Symposium, where he claimed that several MNAs from developing countries left with an indication of what follow he did, how many of these countries had implemented disability sailing plans, nor indicated what the impact of the Paralympic sailing program had on these countries decision to possibly implement plans.
This is why my focus would be on development and growing the sport globally. Any good strategic plan would also address WADA compliance, a media strategy to increase attention to the sport, and improving the classification system. That would be a whole additional list. Without a strategic plan with points like the above that mention specific goals working towards a clear number, ISAF and the sailing community should cut its losses now and own the sport will not be back on the program by 2024. ISAF leadership has given no indication though that they are ready to make these important strategic decisions and priorities.
I vainly await their next press release though that indicates they are doing this, instead of one that gives false hope to sailors and MNAs and others who need to long term strategic planning based on the new environment they find themselves in.