With an analysis completed of the recently available letter from then IFDS President John Towney to the IPC Governing Board about sailing participation numbers, it is clear that an explanation is owed to the disability sailing numbers. The failed 2020 Paralympic program bid was led by current ISAF Disability Sailing Committee President Bernard Destrubé and supported by Towney. In providing documentation to the International Paralympic Committee, disability sailing’s top leaders included Philippines, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium and Croatia in their numbers. These countries have no classified sailors, or participated in no international Paralympic class races.
Their inclusion on the list defies all sense and logic, as it was easy enough to prove their complete lack of participation. The disability sailing community is owed an explanation for this action, specifically as to why IFDS leadership, with support from ISAF who were conducting a member survey about disability sailing at the same time the bid was going on, deliberately misrepresented participation numbers to the International Paralympic Committee.
So far, neither ISAF nor IFDS, Towney nor Destrubé, have provided any explanation for this misrepresentation of the numbers. Individually and organizationally, they have stood behind these numbers. Destrubé has even doubled down on these numbers, defending them and rationalizing them by saying he believes boats with more than 1 sailor in them should have been counted as a team sport. Even under that bizarre interpretation not supported by IPC documentation, SKUD 18 does not count as only 10 countries participated in 2 or more events in the past 4 years. Sonar fairs no better with 13 countries. This is well below the 20 country count threshold for team sports.
No one has taken responsibility for these actions. In fact, it appears that disability sailing leadership has double-downed on Destrubé’s failed leadership and deliberate misrepresentation of participation numbers by making Destrubé the president of their sport. It also looks like sailing organizations have decided to clearly support Destrubé’s failed leadership by aligning themselves with them. One of disability sailing’s biggest regattas, C. Thomas Clagett, Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta, aligned themselves with Destrubé because they did not want to play politics with IFDS, and the route towards not playing politics is to make a statement publicly aligning yourself with Destrubé and IFDS’s failed leadership.
Since this decision was announced, disability sailing appears to have gone on as usual. No one has been held accountable, and failed leadership has been elevated. No one has explained the submission of misleading and factually incorrect participation numbers. No one has explained why the disability sailing community was completely blind sided by this. Neither ISAF or its new Disability Sailing Committee have announced a single major initiative to improve sailing participation numbers. There has been no talk about the role of sail-for-all programs and how they should be situated alongside elite sailing problems despite the IPC singling out this issue in their rejection of the sport. There has been no major public push to talk about how easy it is to adapt boats for use by disability sailors. There has been no discussion around some of the classification issues that plague the sport. There has been zero talk about getting a cash infusion back into the sport after its most important method of getting funding was yanked from under them. Most importantly, there has been no talk about developing a strategic plan for disability sailing that will get the sport back on track for potential re-inclusion on the 2024 Paralympic program.
The disability sailing community deserves better. Recreational sailors deserve better than this. Boat makers deserve better than this. Fans of sailing deserve better than this. The sailing community deserves better than this. The community needs to make clear: We deserve better than the failed leadership we have.