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Opinion: IFDS’s John Towney and Bernard Destrubé owe sailing community explanation for Philippines, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium and Croatia

Disability sailors deserve better

Sailing pictogram

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.






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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.

1 Comment on Opinion: IFDS’s John Towney and Bernard Destrubé owe sailing community explanation for Philippines, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium and Croatia

  1. Who is Laura Hale? What is her agenda? I think she owes her readers an explanation of why she deliberately misreprestent participation numbers. She writes that only 13 nations have competed in two or more Sonar events in the last four years. Since there were 14 countries participating in the Paralympic Games and all the ones that are least active had to qualify the year before this obviously cannot be true.

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