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Part 2: Sailing’s push for Paralympic program reinclusion: Behind the scenes

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This is the second 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 first part is available here, and the third part here.

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Behind the scenes, it appears that a few sailors and MNAs were aware that participation numbers were a concern.  How well this concern was expressed to sailing leadership is still up in the air.  There are reports that one or two MNAs raised this point directly with IFDS but were blown off and told not to worry and that sailing was safe.  ParaSport News was also told that the IPC had informed sailing as early as late 2013 that sailing had a problem with international participation numbers.  The number of sources telling ParaSport News this and their independence, coupled with the lack of ISAF or IFDS publishing their participation numbers following the leads, appears to support the veracity of the claim that sailing’s participation problems and compliance with them are genuine.  They eat away at claims by sailing leadership that the IPC just did not like how sailing actually counted participation.

 

IFDS awareness of this issue though and their subsequent actions are hard to gauge.  They have made few statements to the media period, and those that have do not make reference to participation numbers.  The data IFDS and ISAF have is unknown, despite being the sport’s internationally recognized governing body.  Based on what the IFDS told Sailing Scuttlebutt News, the organization  “sent a questionnaire to all MNA’s requesting their assistance in proving their Paralympic sailing activity, collating race results etc” in August 2014 after an initial IPC review found their application deficient.  It also looks like the Blind Sailing International and IFDS sent a survey out to organizations in the blind sailing community around November or December 2014 to get an idea of participation numbers there.  Limited in scope, the blind sailing survey contained only six questions, none of which would have provided sufficient participation data either retrospectively for future actions or to help in any last minute arguments for the IP.  This data could possibly assisting in providing information for a strategic plan to grow participation, but no documentation exists to suggest such an intent.  The blind sailing survey questions included: 1) What would help increase the number of sailors joining in blind match racing? 2) What are the barriers which prevent visually-impaired sailors from participating in blind match racing? 3) What technologies, categories or race formats would support and improve blind match racing? The next three questions pertain to Blind Fleet Racing:4) What would help increase the number of sailors joining in blind fleet racing? 5) What are the barriers which prevent visually-impaired sailors from participating in blind fleet racing? and 6) What technologies, categories or race formats would support and improve blind fleet racing? ISAF/IFDS also sent out a survey following the sport being removed from the Paralympic Program.  One source told ParaSport News that the survey due tomorrow was too late to help with 2020 reinstatement efforts, and that sailing should have done that back in late 2013 when problems were first identified.

 

In the second review of IFDS’s application by the IPC, Sailing Scuttlebutt News says that participation totals remained an issue, with the IPC raising it as one of four main problems with their application.   Sailing Scuttlebutt News  said of the application, “Worldwide reach remained Red, despite IFDS presenting documented participation of over 36 countries in international events. IPC estimated “that even a generous review of the numbers results in a total of 30 countries practising the sport at the performance level”. This view can be explained by the exclusion of any data related to boats other than the one person, two-person, or Three-Person Paralympic boats.”   This participation number lack came despite what the IFDS reporting they extensively worked to improve these numbers. “Personal contacts were made with countries not necessarily coming frequently to regattas. Extensive Internet search was carried out to obtain dates, participating countries, and results of international regattas around the world.”  When the IFDS went back to the IPC over this issue, IFDS President John Twomey is reported by Sailing Scuttlebutt News  as not denying these issues, but saying, “IFDS once gain detailed – with examples – how the merger with ISAF would facilitate World participation and number of events.” Twomey appeared to suggest sailing could improve its numbers in the future, but apparently concedes that sailing participation numbers were not there at that time at the level the IPC wanted them. There is no indication Twomey provided any real evidence for how this growth would happen.

 

ParaSport News has combed the Internet looking for copies of the IFDS Strategic Plan to understand how the leadership planned to grow international participation.  Most international disability sport federations or federations with disability sports under their purview have this document and specifically address this point as a way of insuring IPC compliance.  This is the case for both badminton and taekwondo who successfully were included on the program as new sports, even as sailing was cut.

 

The most recently available IFDS strategic plan dates to March 2010.  Increasing national participation numbers is a theme that appears in several sections. Actions to support this goal include “Assign ISAF country groups to IFDS ExCom members ” which was a responsibility of the executive committee, and ” Promote event opportunities to non-RNA MNAs” which was the responsibility of  Events & Scheduling Commission and the Secretariat.  Beyond this, there were no concrete objectives to grow participation to a set number.  When the Paralympics are discussed in the document, it is in the context of getting new disciplines added without objectives related to the IPC handbook or supporting sailing competitions on the Paralympic level and WADA compliance.  The next most recent strategic plan related news from IFDS dates to November 2011’s IFDS AGM, with notes from the meeting stating, “Strategic Plan of IFDS was on track though a bit soft on the Development side of things as there currently is no Chair for that committee. Staley encouraged RNAs to five input on Strategic Plan, providing feedback on what is or isn’t listed. The document needs to be reviewed on a regular basis, with all feedback to go through IFDS Secretariat Emma Little. It is an organic document subject to review and revision twice a year”.

 

ISAF has the most recent Strategic Plan referencing Paralympic sailing, and it makes no reference to participation numbers.  It just says, “Integration paralympic sailing in Clubs, MNAs and ISAF.” as a policy suggestion and priority.  This Strategic Plan is notable because it states, “There is a lack of data with regard to the size of participation in our sport.” This point is repeated elsewhere in the plan. Sailing’s participation numbers as a whole are also referenced in other parts.  One bullet point says, “Sailing is increasing in the developing world especially in countries with a rapidly growing ‘middle class’ but a challenge to keep new people in the sport after the first introduction.”  Another says, “Due to the fact that the number of classes is growing, in most of the classes the number of participants in races is declining (smaller fleets).”  A third says, “Women and girl’s participation is growing, compensating a slight decline in men’s and boy’s memberships.”  ISAF’s Strategic Plan has a bullet point mentioning their communication problems, “Poor communications between the MNAs in the ISAF Council Groups.” in the “Barriers to develop the sport further” section. The Development and Youth Committee have no goals or priorities on a concrete level that specifically state what their growth targets are and how these will be measured data wise.

 

International Hansa Class Association Inc’s 2014 Annual General Meeting notes include information on participation about disability sailing, and growth in this area.  The organization is not IFDS though and the meeting notes include no specific plans to grow the class with an eye towards Paralympic inclusion.  The AGM appears to take inclusion as a given stating, “We also like to motivate sailors who think they are in a future Paralympic campaign or selection to join our event, it would be a great start towards 2020.”  They provide no specific by country count of participation, but do include information on total participation numbers.

 

Issues with the sport’s application beyond participation numbers could have and should been apparent to the broader sailing community earlier, but may have been ignored by sailing leadership.  According to insidethegames.biz, one person multi-hull sailing and blind match racing sailing  were both sailing disciplines that tried to get on the program for the first time. They sat alongside badminton, taekwondo, powerchair football, amputee football, 3-on-3 ID basketball, 3-on-3 wheelchair basketball, and electric wheelchair hockey. Two of these made the final program, and the rest were cut from consideration by September of last year.

 

 

This is the second 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 first 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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