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Part 1: Sailing’s push for Paralympic reinclusion: Participation and participation

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This is the first article in a three-part series exploring what went on behind the scenes in the lead up sailing wise into the decision to remove sailing from the Paralympic program.  It is based on reviewing other news articles, original data reporting done by ParaSport News, examinations of publicly available ISAF and IFDS documents, leaked IFDS, ISAF and IPC records, and conversations with people involved on different levels inside the sailing community.  The second part is available here, and the third part here.

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Since the announcement that sailing was cut from the 2020 Paralympic program, there have been a variety of different responses from MNAs, sailors directly impacted by the program, and disability sailors on the non-elite level.  Their responses in terms of the causes and what should be done next have run the gamut of blaming the IPC, blaming ISAF, blaming IFDS to saying the sport on a competitive level is not fun, disability sailing has too many classes of boats, to specialized boats make the sport too expensive and not appealing to a great number of sailors.

 

The sense of urgency and the level of conversation has fallen a great deal in the past two months since the decision was announced.  The major source of continued urgency appears to be coming from a Facebook page titled Reinstate Paralympic Sailing into 2020 Games that is maintained by Geoff Holt. Sailing Anarchy had a discussion about this that started after the news was shared, but discussion largely stopped by mid-February. Blue Planet ran one piece about the decision in March, but nothing recently.  Many Sailability pages made one reference early on, or never mentioned it.  There have been sporadic mentions about the need to complete the IFDS survey needing completion. insidethegames.biz, one of the major sport news sites to write consistently about Paralympic sport, has not published any substantial update on the state of sailing in about a month and a half.  To a degree, interest appears to have largely shifted to focus on more urgent matters, like the pollution at the sailing site for the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics.

 

A number of elite sailors, MNAs and others involved with the decision to remove the sport from the program learned of it at the World Cup event being held in Miami.  Others learned through the IPC website, sporting websites, and through the broader sailing community.

 

Many in the sailing community have blamed different people and organizations, and have different ideas for who to lobby to see the sport re-included on the program for Tokyo.  Much of the latter depends on views about the state of the sport’s governance, perceptions of behind the scenes leadership, and beliefs about the readiness of Tokyo to host the event despite the IPC’s announced decision.  Some of this is likely impacted by ISAF officially taking over governance of disability sailing from IFDS late last year.

 

Early on, ISAF and IFDS appear to have tried to blame the International Paralympic Committee for the decision.  While Sir Philip Craven, supported by shared IPC documents published on  Reinstate Paralympic Sailing into 2020 Games, said the problem with sailing was a failure to comply with participation numbers stipulated in the IPC Handbook, an initial ISAF statement released shortly after the news broke said, “Sailing adds a unique element to Paralympic sport through open events that include athletes with a broad range of disabilities. […] At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, 23 nations from four continents were represented across the three Paralympic events. Every effort will be made to reinstate sailing to the Paralympic Game.”

 

IFDS vice-president Bernard Destrubé has since gone on to claim these document were outdated and incorrect. Destrubé  is quoted by insidethegames.biz on February 14 as saying, “IPC writes, interprets, and applies its regulations in an autonomous manner, and it would be inappropriate and disrespectful to continue discussing their evaluation of worldwide reach. […] If IPC wished to keep sailing as a Paralympic sport, the figures may have been analysed differently. […] Of greater importance, is understanding why IPC does not want to keep sailing as a sport in the Paralympics.” Destrubé  went on in the same insidethegames.biz report to blame the media for failing to make the sport attractive to people with disabilities.  While acknowledging zero tickets were sold to sailing at the Paralympic Games, Destrubé was further quoted as saying, “Sailing will be back in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, if each and all of us feeds back information to make IPC want sailing back in the Games. […]  Produce exciting photos, moving stories, encourage compelling letters from your national sailing federations, get signatures on the petition. […] Use your network to get personal contacts so that each decision-maker of IPC will want sailing back. […] Let us cease the mutiny raging on Facebook and elsewhere, adjust the ship’s course, trim the sails, and show the world that Paralympic sailing is a unique sport, unquestionably the most inclusive sport of the Games. […] A sport that allows the most severely disabled athletes rise to the highest podium as in the SKUD event in Beijing [2008]. […] A sport where women and men compete with and against each other. […] A sport where no physical or vision disability cannot be overcome by appropriate adaptations and teamwork.”

 

Another IFDS statement disputing IPC participation numbers quoted by insidethegames.biz said, “”IFDS ensures an extensive quadrennial programme of international competitions replicating the Olympic programme organised by the International Sailing Federation, including ISAF Sailing World Cup. […] IFDS sanctions and organises yearly Combined World Championships in the Paralympic classes. […] Development has resulted in the regular addition of new countries to competitive sailing. […] The process of merging with ISAF (with a membership of 139 Member National Authorities) was completed in November of 2014, with the main aim of opening a whole new field for the development of disabled sailing. […] During the period of pre-merging, ISAF always respected the independence of IFDS decisions. […] Through ISAF’s development programmes, worldwide participation initiatives and event structure, the opportunities for disabled sailing are better than ever before.”

 

One source has told ParaSport News that it is possible that the IFDS application included participation numbers based on different classes and types of boats that disability sailors compete on in local and national regattas but that are not ones that appear on the Paralympic program.  These boats often serve as feeder boats on the Olympic level to Olympic class boats.  Such counting is apparently similar to what is done when sailing has submitted participation numbers to the IOC in their effort to keep sailing events on the Olympic program.  The same source said that if each unique boat was required to meet the minimum by country participation count using the same boat class, the number of sailing events on the Olympic level would drop hugely.

 

Still, another source told ParaSport News that the problems with the participation numbers for disability sailing submitted to the IPC went deeper than that.  While ParaSport News‘s understanding is IPC is open to the counting disability sailors who compete almost exclusively in open events against able-bodied sailors, sources have told ParaSport News  the participation numbers provided to the IPC included sailors competing in the same boat class who did not have IFDS classified disabilities.  The impact of this was to over inflate participation numbers for disability sailors.  This lack of differentiation between able-bodied and disability sailor participation is best seen in International 2.4mR Class President Bruce Millar’s letter of support to the IPC, which says, “The records from current boat builders indicate the 2.4mR Class boat has been sold in over 41 countries and has the greatest reach of the Paralympic sailboat classes.” Millar provides no specific numbers to support IFDS claims about the reach of disability sailing by differentiating between the two groups of sailors.

 

Despite the leaked documents and IPC statements regarding participation numbers being the primary cause of sailing being removed from the program, neither IFDS nor ISAF have publicly stated what numbers they have provided the IPC. ParaSport News has repeatedly looked into this, and been unable to ever get at the minimum required participation number based on national team participation in events, IFDS/ISAF ranking, IFDS/ISAF  internationally classified sailor counts, disability sailing clubs operating on the local level, and total national disability sailing regattas.

 

This is the first article in a three-part series exploring what went on behind the scenes in the lead up sailing wise into the decision to remove sailing from the Paralympic program.  It is based on reviewing other news articles, original data reporting done by ParaSport News, examinations of publicly available ISAF and IFDS documents, leaked IFDS, ISAF and IPC records, and conversations with people involved on different levels inside the sailing community.  The second part is available here, and the third part here.

Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2533 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.

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