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Commentary: Sailing: What now that the community understands 2020 is gone?

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This is part of a series of continuing articles about sailing and the 2020 Paralympic Games inclusion efforts. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and the most recent.



With the IPC having made clear to sailing leadership last week that there was no opportunity for the sport to be added back on the 2020 Summer Paralympics program, sailing needs to start looking ahead towards to the 2024 Paralympic Program selection process if they want to have a chance to get back in.  They also need to do some critical examination of what went wrong with the Paralympic application, as similar issues are almost certainly going to recur in September of this year when the Olympic selection is announced.


From a sailing outsider perspective with a fair amount of knowledge about general disability sport and the International Paralympic Committee, as a sport journalist specializing in disability sport, I’d give the following advice for what I see as three key institutional changes:

  1. Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning.   The first institutional change that needs to be made is to write a completely new strategic plan for the whole sport, and one specifically for disability sailing. The most recent ISAF  Strategic Plan makes only one reference to disability sailing, and it is unclear if IFDS actually has one. In any case, these are failures. These new strategic plan needs to be oriented around IOC and IPC inclusion criteria.  In the case of disability sailing strategic plan, a focus needs to be on developing sailing in the different IPC regions including Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.  This strategic plan needs to focus on participation rates by countries, not by total sailors as the current ISAF plan does.  A whole section should be on what these growth metrics should be,  how to meet them and how to meet them.  WADA compliance needs to be done.  There needs to be a section on classification, as this was brought up in the application.  There also needs to be a much bigger focus on the media, public relations and communications side.  Sailing needs a marketing plan as part of its strategic plan.  Institutional changes then need to be made to meet these goals.  This should be the absolute first priority.
  2. Sailing leadership needs to be more engaged with the IPC.  Once  the IPC approves ISAF membership, get sailors onto IPC committees. Make it a goal to get leadership involved to better understand what the IPC wants, how they operate, etc.  Get sailing leadership better networked in to the broader disability sport community, and the IPC is key.  Understanding how the system works is key.   It becomes clear from reviewing the actions of IFDS and ISAF in the lead up to and aftermath of the Paralympic sailing decision that they did not know what was going on.  Leadership was reassuring MNAs that the sport was not at risk.  The IFDS was unable to meet basic requests about participation numbers that the IPC wanted.  It is clear they have no idea, and by getting Committee positions and doing more networking with the IPC, this an hopefully can change.
  3. Change disability sailing leadership.  The current leadership is clearly not working.  I have yet to see a cognizant case anywhere for this, and what MNAs have told me and what sailing message boards make clear is that selection to the Executive Committee is often based more on personal relationships, friendships, entitlements, etc.  It is not a merit based system, nor is voting based on platforms for improving the sport’s positioning.  MNAs need to be encouraged to select candidates who have clearly articulated plans and a résumé that would in some way indicate they are capable of working on the new strategic priorities. Without some leadership change, there does not seem to be any reason to think any changes will actually be met.  Look no further than Olympic sailing, which will once again be at risk with leadership not learning from the last situation with Olympic windsurfing.


For most sailors, the above is not something they are likely to be directly involved with, nor can they easily be involved with.  Your ability to enact change on the highest level may be a bit difficult.  So what can the average disability sailor, able-bodied sailor or sailing fan do to support their disability sailors?   There are four major things I would recommend:
  1. Improve the media profile of your sport.  Increase the profile of disability sailors.
  2. Assist in improving participation.  Get more people involved with the sport.
  3. Get involved with local governance of the sport through your local Sailability organization, your local sailing club or your MNA.


The first one is really important, “Improve the media profile of your sport.  Increase the profile of disability sailors.”  Practically speaking, disability sport is becoming more professionalized around the globe.  Sailing should know this as it has its own cadre of professional disability sailors.   Sports that have successfully gotten on the program have done so by getting media attention, by capturing the attention of your average sport fans, by getting acknowledgement and support for regional, national and international federations.  Media attention is often key for supporting this, because media can bring in a new audience, which can assist in sponsorship, grants and getting new participants.  “Hey, I never realized there was football for people with amputees/boccia/a wheelchair basketball alternative for lower functioning quads until I saw it on Facebook/read it in the newspaper/saw it on Twitter/saw that blog post!”  That happens, and there is a body of research that suggests that one of the ways to get people in the doors and to start participating is to get them informed.  That is what the media is about.


How do you do that as an individual? There are a number of options I’d recommend.  The obvious is to identify your target audience, and then chose the social media platform where that audience is.  This audience includes the media.   I’m particularly fond of U.S. Virgin Islands Paralympic Sailing Team, and have written about them as a journalist because they do these updates.  Without that, I would never be writing about them.  Track your social media metrics, be it follow totals, audience composition, number of blog subscribers, number of visitors, and then give this information to someone in your immediate sailing organization, be this a sailing club giving this information to the MNA, or a Paralympic sailor giving this information to their MNA and NPC.


If you’re not fond of that route for media attention, my next suggestion is Wikipedia with the careful caveat of always following policies, declaring conflicts of interest, etc.    This route is fantastic for a number of reasons.  The Australians did a project I was involved with in the lead up to London.   The metrics for this project were impressive,  and the content they worked on has subsequently gone to get over 1 million views.  You can read one of these reports on the metrics for London, another for the 2012 IPC NorAm Cup, a third for the 2013 IPC Alpine Sking World Championships,  a fourth for the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships,  and a last for 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships.  Just think what some of these number could do in terms of impressing the your stake holders, including individual athletes, sponsors, grant makers, etc.  The metrics are easy to do, and you do not need to have formal affiliation to add and improve Wikipedia and Wikimedia Sister Project content.


What do you do Wikipedia wise? First, I would suggest contacting  your local sailing club, MNA or NPC and see about hosting a Wikipedia Workshop.  Focus on creating and improving articles about  about individual sailors sport sailing in each country, disability sailing in general, sailing at the Paralympic Games, national Paralympic sailing teams, disability sailing organizations, disability sailing in each country, boat types, and sailing classification.  There are good articles to model from in creating these articles.  There are lots of articles around for people to model their own work off.  Classification articles? The para-alpine skiing one and swimming one both serve as good models for how to improve these. For individual sailor, good potential models from other sports include Spanish swimmer Teresa Perales and Australian skier Cameron Rahles-Rahbula.  For articles about individual sport by country articles, netball in the Cook Islands is a good model.  Models for disability sport by country are more difficult to find, but disabled sport in Spain and disabled sport in Australia are good places to look.  These can give ideas on how to source articles, potential structure, and what makes a good Wikipedia article.  Build these articles in your native language, and then work on getting these articles translated into other languages.  There are few of these, but they help build sailing’s international reach and give domestic media a lot more information about sailors from other countries, which makes it easier for reporters to do our jobs.  Couple this strategy with contributing freely licensed images to Wikimedia Commons, contributing stories about sailing to Wikinews, writing a book about disability sailing on Wikibooks, or adding disability sailing terms to Wiktionary.  Education is key for having an informed media more likely to report on your sport, and for engaging future sailors.


There are a number of other places you can contribute.  If you follow sailing regularly, you can can come report for ParaSport News only about disability sailing.  If you write in Spanish and you’re a sailor or involved with disability sailing, then make sure you get your news out to dxt adapato. Become involved as a reporter on some level.   If you’re a sailor or disability sailing organization, keep records of all your media reference  by putting them in a portfolio.  Send your sailing news to your NPC and ask them to publish this news on their website, or put out a press release related to it: Do not just count on your MNA.  Leverage what you have and feed this information to the people above you so they are aware of what is going on, and where successes are.  This type of work will pay off in spades, both in terms of working towards IPC criteria and in terms of promoting your sport.


The second thing you can do is “Assist in improving participation.  Get more people involved with the sport.”  This is important. ISAF/IFDS have how many African sailors? From all the data I have seen, you have South Africa and that is it. They also appear largely inactive, so that is a regional write off on the IPC inclusion criteria. Compare this to one of the sports that made it on the program for the first time: Taekwondo had competitors from at least three African countries that they could easily prove, and had a growth plan and model. It may not be as successful as it should be, but they have it. Sailing? I think not.  Wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, athletics, swimming, powerlifting, goalball, boccia and rowing: These sports all have plans to globally grow their sport.


What can you do?  Work your contact networks. Who do you know in what other MNAs?    How can you assist MNAs or ISAF recognized Continental Federations or NPCs in developing countries in growing disability sailing?  Find out through your network if there is interest.  For instance, Lake Victoria borders Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Lake Tanganyika is bordered by Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia.  Sailing takes place on these lakes.   See if you can’t work with stake holders to identify potential disability sailing coaches in these regions, get ISAF Level 1 Coaching Courses held in the country, get coaches certified and boats donated to have those coaches have the equipment to work with them.  Assist the local sailing community and local disability sport community to buy in to this.  ISAF appears to not have this sort of plan, and while it looks like some continental federations have strategic plans that actually talk about doing this, these programs are potential success stories that can provide numbers and they are not being talked about.  They probably are not happening.  So volunteer to step into that void.


Uganda is doing something similar with rowing that looks like a very real potential success story.  Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron (FISA) donated some boats.  The FISA regional development officer got a level 1 training course to take place there, and got 12 members of the rowing community to buy into this and complete the course.  The program was integrated with the disability and non-disability side of the sport.  These coaches have the expertise and the equipment to now go train the next generation of Ugandan rowers.  Other countries and sports have done similar things.  So get involved by trying to create these from inside your own organization or by volunteering with another.  Support others doing this.  Fundraise to donate boats to MNAs who have strategic plans to use these donated boats. Because at the moment, ISAF’s plan looks like providing a “how to guide” for MNAs.  If they have something more sophisticated like what FIFA or FISA are doing, it is not promoted internally or externally.


Then when you’re doing with that, work on getting sailors classified.  This is done by getting IFDS trained and certified classifiers in the country.  There will be no classification done at any future Paralympic Games, so a process will need to be in place to have this done.  If you cannot help on the coaching end, then get in touch with the MNA or NPC about identifying potential classifiers, and seeing if there are enough people to get a course held in that country, or in that region. Sailors cannot compete internationally unless classified.  It costs money when classification is done wrong, so having international classifiers in your backyard also saves money.  This is important in developing countries and for the growth of the sport as a whole.


Interact with others doing the same things you are.  Build a network of people working to globally build the sport of disability sailing, country by country. And then build from there. Unless disability sailing can get Asia, Africa, Oceania (outside NZ and Australia) and the Americas (outside Brazil, the USA and Canada) on board, there is little hope for Paralympic inclusion because you need these  countries participation. You need to start by getting coaches who can use the equipment, the equipment and international classifiers.  From there, the sport can grow. If ISAF and its Continental Federations have no plan for the disability side, then start at the grass roots, do it yourself, and then force ISAF and its daughter bodies to absorb your success.


The last thing you need to do is “Get involved with local governance of the sport through your local Sailability organization, your local sailing club or your MNA.”  Sailing is not fully professionalized.  It relies on a whole bevy of awesome volunteers who do awesome things.  Give back by getting involved, and helping build things on the local level.  Know what is going on governance wise.  Know where there grants are, who gives them, and how to apply for them.  Host regattas.  Get sailors to attend.  Work with your MNA to have national disability sailing championships.  It will help in being better prepared for things like this in the future, and insure the sport’s continuity.


This effort for re-inclusion on the Paralympic program needs to come from people with an investment in the community. You make the best potential spokespeople, both as faces for the media, and in making the case to people with disabilities as to why they too should participate. Visibility and participation come from you, not as Dr. Bernard said from journalist like me who just fail to report about disability sailing because we do not even know it exists.

And every step of the way, get media attention for it. Then put pressure on ISAF to include what you’re doing in their strategic planning. Because looking at the existing most recent strategic plan, you’re not on their radar and they just don’t care about disability sailing and the importance of the Paralympic program to the future of the disability sailing. Not that it appears IFDS cared either from an outsider perspective. They knew since 2013 that their sport was at risk, and yet so many key stakeholders were blind sided.

Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2569 Articles)
Laura Hale is a sport journalist, specializing in Paralympic and disability sport news. Prior to helping found ParaSport-News, she spent two and a half years working as a journalist on Wikinews, a citizen journalism site. As a journalist, she has covered the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, and a number of other sporting events. She has additional experience with Paralympic sport having worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian and Spanish Paralympic Committees. She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra.

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