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Part 3: Sailing’s push for Paralympic program reinclusion: Who gets the blame and routes forward

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This is the third 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 second part here.



Who gets the blame for the lack of inclusion issue is a bit in dispute.  As mentioned in the two previous parts, IFDS and ISAF have blamed the IPC.    Reinstate Paralympic Sailing into 2020 Games appears to be blaming IFDS and / or ISAF, who in turn are blamed by IFDS and ISAF for hurting the sport’s opportunity to get sailing back on the program.  In general, the narrative being driven by Reinstate Paralympic Sailing into 2020 Games is the one that is dominating discussion.  Over on Sail World, Rob Kothe lays the blame on sailing’s international leadership, and its failure to coordinate with different national bodies, saying, “Since the IPC decision to remove Sailing from the Paralympic roster, there has been lots of noise, but a notable absence of a coordinated ISAF approach involving MNAs and National Paralympic Committee to try and reverse the decision. Action needs to start yesterday to impact 2020 and where is the leadership that’s going to drive it?  The ISAF Executive structure is not designed for fast decision making and Presidents and Vice Presidents need a strong CEO to make things happen. Sadly in the short term leadership will not come from the ISAF Secretariat, because there is a vacancy at the top. ”


On Sailing Anarchy‘s forums, blame appears to be spread around. A user named Dawg Gonit supported the declining participation number narrative but also put some of the blame on British sailors, boat type and classifiers saying.  Dawg Gonit also said, “ISAF had nothing to do with Sailing being given the boot from the Paralympics. It is the poor management from IFDS and some of the Developed Countries along with their greed for gold at any cost.”  Another user named RKoch blamed IFDS, saying, ” So I don’t think that Paralympic Sailing is being singled out as much as it is a case of ISAF and USS just being totally fucking clueless and self-serving.”


Peter Huston, filmmaker and sailor, appears to on  Sailing Anarchy have put some of the blame not on IFDS but ISAF leadership, “Actually, you are exactly wrong to make Henderson the bad guy in this equation. There as a movement to get rid of disabled sailing when he was still President of ISAF.  At the same time, Jacque Rogge, a Finn sailor, was President of the IOC.  Rogge wanted the Star out of the Olympics.  Henderson fought for the Star for a bunch of reasons, one of them was that large people need something to sail, and the whole traditional aspect of it.  But maybe even more importantly, he knew that if the Star went away, so too would the facility to handle all keel boats go away at an Olympic venue.  So he said that to Rogge, if you make me pull the Star, then I’m going to blame you for making paralympic sailing vulnerable.  Henderson was able to keep the Star in, but others didn’t care so much.”  Another user said, “For those who delight in ISAF’s lunacy (and it’s been getting almost laughably dysfunctional lately), have a look at the ISAF statement.  ISAF takes over the IFDS in November, and two months later, the IPC gives sailing the ease.  Coincidence, or yet another example of ISAF’s ‘reverse midas touch’?  You know how it works: Everything they touch turns to shit! ”  Still yet another user said, “This is simple. ISAF traded Paralympic sailing in order to save medals in olympic sailing. Follow the money”


Maureen McKinnon, a recently announced member of the United States Paralympic sailing team, told  Blue Planet‘s Kimball Livingston,  “The most promising organization out there is the Tokyo planning committee. […] Their response is, business as usual, and they’re planning a sailing center on the assumption that Paralympians will sail there. […] I’m also confident of the support we have in the U.S. Tom Hubbell as president of US Sailing, Josh Adams as managing director of US Olympic Sailing — more than anyone before him, he treats us as equal to the Olympians — and Gary Jobson as a vice president of ISAF. Gary is perhaps one of the few who admire Nick Scandone even more than [West Coast blogger, name withheld]. These people are genuine, and they’ll do what they can do to help the other world organizations influence the IPC.”


This is different from the current theme, where people are being encouraged to send letters of support to IFDS, ISAF and the IPC.  People have written petitions that have had thousands of signatures with the intention of these being used to encourage the IPC to change their mind.  It is unclear though, other than saying the IPC is discriminating against sailing and fails to understand sailing, what these petitions hope to accomplish as they fail to address the fundamental message that the IPC has consistently put out there: Sailing participation numbers do not exist and sailing has not made a case as to why they should be included when they cannot meet the same criteria as the other 22 sports actually chosen for the program.


On Sailing Anarchy‘s forums, people have suggested a possible alternative, such as reaching out to Japanese Association for Disabled Sailing and the city of Tokyo about hosting a disability regatta before the Olympics or Paralympics to try to draw attention to their sport. A similar suggestion was to host the IFDS World Championships in Tokyo around the same time.



While the immediate impact of the sailing decision still needs time to be felt when it comes to funding, for Norwegian elite sailors, the decision means that following the 2016 Summer Games, there will no longer be a national disability sailing team.  In Brazil, the decision means that government funding is almost certain to be cut for programs the national disability sailing delivers.  These programs include providing opportunities for children with terminal cancer to go sailing, and programs for children with intellectual disabilities. Few MNAs appear optimistic about the chance of sailing to be back on the 2020 Paralympic program, with a tone that also suggested resignation that sailing will not back for 2024 either. The view is that this will not just impact sailing at the elite level, but also on the recreational level with a trickle down economic impact on boat makers.  Less overall participation, fewer sailors, no funding through elite sport means orders to boat makers, especially those specializing in Paralympic class boats, will decline and put a few of them out of business.


Beyond the obvious, issues with how to grow sailing’s participation numbers and the long term consequences for the sport’s participation going forward, there are other issues.  One such path towards increasing participation numbers would be through getting other disability types more actively on board.  This could give an immediate boost to sailing by taking advantage of some of the existing infrastructure in sailing that is already in place to serve these communities.


IFDS and now ISAF has never specifically catered to sailors with intellectual disabilities.  This appears to be the exclusive domain of Special Olympics. They have clear guidelines, sport specific rules, and different levels of competition at regattas depending on the sport familiarity and level of intellectual disability. On the elite level for intellectual disability sailors, opportunities are view. INAS is reported to have added sailing to the sports they support in 2007, but the sport is currently not listed among those supported by INAS.  Those are alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, athletics, basketball, cricket, cycling, football, futsal, rowing, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo and tennis.  They have also been involved with organizing handball events.  INAS’s most recently available strategic plan and annual report make no reference to the sport.  An inaugural IFDS-INAS championship was proposed in October 2014, but it is unclear what came of this proposal and if it was ever realizes.


Like intellectual disabilities, deaf sailing also appears to be off the IFDS and ISAF radar.  The sport is not governed by International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, nor does it appear on the Deaflympics program.  Some deaf sailors, particularly in the United Kingdom, have been participating in sonar events for several years.  There have been reports of sporadic programming efforts targeting deaf sailors through MNAs.  This is a potential growth area if ISAF leadership can develop this, and get sailing on a future Deaflympic program.  It would enable sailing to continue to be in house at a number of National Paralympic Committees (NPC), where the NPC leadership is not drawn from sport specific member federations but instead from disability type specific sport federations.  This is the case in Spain, and a number of other countries.  At the same time, this would continue to give some sailors with disabilities a pathway towards elite sport as a number of countries are putting the Deaflympics on the same level as the Paralympics.  In the case of Kazakhstan, all Deaflympic medalists are entitled to pensions for life.


Different types of disability sailors, who bring along established governance practices and contacts from inside their own international institutions, offer one potential gateway to assist ISAF in any efforts to grow the disability side of the sport.  This can only be done though if ISAF takes a long hard look at itself, and develops a strategic plan for the disability side of the sport which has concrete, measurable objectives with the data infrastructure in place to actually track growth. Then sailing has to come up with a plan to improve classification to avoid screw ups like the one Sailing Anarchy that cost mid-level self-funded sailors thousands of dollars. Oh, and then ISAF needs to come up with a plan to get the media interested in sailing.  They can start by not repeating Destrubé’s message where he blamed the media for not making the sport attractive. Destrubé, our job as journalists is not to do that.  That is your job, and the job of ISAF and IFDS leader, as a caretaker of a sport that helps thousands of people with disabilities every year to lead better, healthier, happier lives.  Sell us on the sport.  At the moment, the problems documented here with sport make it less attractive because it looks like leadership has a lack of respect for a whole lot of stake holders across the board.


This is the third 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 second part here.

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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