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Geoff Holt encourages sailors to contact national sailing organizations to complain about ISAF inaction

Sailing pictogram

On Facebook today, Geoff Holt encouraged disability sailors to contact their national sailing organizations because of the “damning evidence that the disabled sailing committee of ISAF, our international sporting governing body, failed to demonstrate the universally of our sport to IPC. The IFDS / ISAF have, single-handedly managed to wipe our sport from the Paralympic programme. None of IFDS have resigned nor offered any form of explanation or apology.”



Holt shared part of the International Paralympic Committee documents that explain their decision to remove sailing from the program.  One criticism was the lack of full responses to questions like the value the sport adds to the Paralympic program, which read only as, “Media appeal of 80 disabled athletes in an environment, just as abled sailors. Racing with equipment that allows inclusive competing, including all types of disabilities in all classes.” Another IPC criticism was the brevity of the IFDS response about why the sport benefited from being on the program which only read as, “Provides the focus of MNA’s on disabled sailing.” IFDS did not even spell out MNA, which was explained in the document Holt shared as meaning “Member National Authority.”


The extensive criticisms go on, highlighting that the complex rules, protests, appeals and redress procedures resulted in a case from the London Paralympics that wound up before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) that cost IFDS a fair bit of money. In 2013, IFDS had a loss of €32,000 and was only solvent because of grants from the IPC and ISAF to cover their €87,000 in fees as a result of the CAS case. The IPC grant of €26,000 was for annual sports program and was intended to be used over several years.


The document also criticized the sailing classification system. The sport questionnaire issued to ISAF and returned to the IPC explained the criteria for classification as, “Sailing is a very complex sport. We have evaluated the results to check how the distribution of disabilities are represented in the results. We found that there is a good representation of all kinds and level of disabilities at all levels of results.” The IPC reported that classifiers were not being paid for their expenses at ISAF organized events, and this has ended up posing a particular difficulty for the sport in finding classifiers for competitors with vision impairment because IFDS is not directly involved in this type of classification.


The document also explains in details why Craig Spence told Holt that the IFDS numbers for participation were questionable, including the fact that the IFDS itself only has 39 national members in 2013 despite the IPC requiring the sport be widely practiced in 40 countries in all 5 regions. The IPC says that elite athlete participation numbers provided by IFDS could not be confirmed against IFDS’s own world ranking totals.  The IFDS claimed 204 high performance sailors, with 157 male and 47 female. The IFDS’s global rankings for April 2014 rankings included only 161 high performance sailors, with 136 males and 25 females. These athletes came from only 25 countries, well below the IPC’s requirement of the sport being played in 40 countries. The IPC minimum requirements for a sport is 32 countries where the sport is widely and regularly participated in on the high performance level. When the IPC asked for a list of high performance events, IFDS provided a list of events that included a number of events that were for able-bodied athletes with an option for disability sailors to participate. The IFDS included no information about how many disability sailors actually participated in these, inflating the event count and providing no evidence of disability sailor participation. The IPC found only five IFDS point events in 2014, of which three were in Europe and two were in the United States. They believe that this does not fit the definition of robust competition, nor does it provide disability sailors with enough opportunities to compete at the highest level.


The IFDS failed to provide any evidence to support claims that they were working with the Olympic federation to make the sport more attractive. The sum total of their explanation for initiatives to get young people in the sport was to say, “National Youth programmes.” The IFDS said their way of making the sport more attractive to the media was “monthly newsletter, updating daily website, Facebook, Twitter”. They provided the IPC with zero information on how they were making the sport more attractive to sponsors.


The IPC finished their analysis by highlighting that the IFDS provided no information on website traffic, and that they had not done any medical health initiatives. They concluded by saying about the quality of the application, “Generally poor with very little information provided, claims not backed up by data, some questions not answered.”

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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