One of the potentially most troubling issues revealed by the recently leaked IPC documents is the statement that says, “Several national programmes are not conducted by a proper member federation but by non-profit sailing organizations. These are often not at the performance level but focus on a sport-for-all approach.”
If sailing is seriously looking to get back on the program for 2024, this is an issue that the sailing community will need to address. While it is important that sailing be accessible for sailors from the range of recreational and occasional sailors to the elite, full-time and professional sailors, national programs should not focus on the purely recreational, non-competitive sailors at the expensive of elite sport. Elite sailing has its place, and, if as the disability sailing community has indicated it believes that includes the Paralympics, changes need to be made at the national level with full support of ISAF. Otherwise, sailing is in for another rough go.
Sport-for-all approaches stand in stark contrast to the Paralympic movement. Sport-for-all is the Special Olympics. This sporting movement is vastly different than the Paralympic movement, because emphasis is changed from participation as the over riding issue, to competition. Organizations and competitions are structured differently to meet these different approaches, with one having an approach with athletes of all abilities competing along side each other (“You are a winner just by participating!”), to athletes separated based on their skill and ability to foster greater levels of competition (“You trained hard, competed hard and earned this medal!”).
The position of the IPC is clear when it comes to how the “sport-for-all approach” integrates with their core vision. Among the points in the IPC’s Paralympic mission, found in Chapter 1.1 of the IPC handbook is, “To promote and contribute to the development of sport opportunities and competitions, from initiation to elite level, for Paralympic athletes as the foundation of elite Paralympic sport.” Another point is, “To develop opportunities for female athletes and athletes with high support needs in sport at all levels and in all structures.” Both points talk about elite level sport and competition. This is reinforced in the Paralympic vision found in the same chapter and section, which says, ” To achieve sporting excellence: the goal of a sports-centred organisation”.
Chapter 1.2 Rights and obligations of IPC members of the IPC handbook gives no hint that international federations (IF) should have a primary focus on a sport-for-all approach. The vast majority of their rights are based around the idea of fostering competition, and participation on the elite level at the Paralympic games. Nothing in this section supports an idea of a sports-for-all approach as basis for membership in the IPC. Several points make clear that their obligations are for competition in the IF requirement section, including,
- 2.4.3 Develop the technical requirements for the sport at the Paralympic Games, in conformity with the IPC Handbook and to submit these to the IPC for approval;
- 2.4.4 Assume the responsibility for the technical control and direction of the sport at the Paralympic Games, regional games and competitions under the patronage of the IPC;
- 2.4.6 Establish the final results and rankings for the sport at the Paralympic Games;
- 2.4.7 Produce and maintain world and Paralympic records lists for the sport at the Paralympic Games;
- 2.4.8 Co-ordinate its development activities with the IPC and co-operate with the IPC in providing the sport specific expertise required to develop the sport for athletes with a disability from the initiation to the elite level;
Therefor, sport-for-all based sailing MNAs do not follow what the IPC indicates they want in their vision and mission statements, and their obligations for member IFs.
Disability sailing needs a new structure, and disability only sailing organizations that do not clearly support elite sailing as part of their mission need to be removed by ISAF or IFDS unless their missions are changed. Failing that, the MNAs for the able-bodied side need to be encouraged to integrate these organizations into their own and support the elite disability side. This can be helped along a lot by education, including how easy it is to make basic and cheap modifications to boats to be inclusive and explaining that insurance for sailors with disabilities is generally no greater than insurance for able-bodied sailors. These points are ones already being made by ISAF and some MNAs, but they need to be made louder. Doing this should not only help the elite side, but also assist in development of sailing on the non-elite level.
It is hard to take disability sailing serious as an elite sport, when the sports highest national governing bodies do not treat it so. It seems impossible to make a case to the IPC when sailing’s governance structure clearly says it is not elite. This is just one new thing to be tackled for potential 2024 inclusion.