Sailing: Windsurfers praying critical vote returns them to Olympics

By David Leggat

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

It's easy to picture the whispered conversations in the halls, side-of-the-mouth mutterings of deals being done as sailing's governing body gather this week for a key Olympic Games decision.

The International Sailing Federation annual meeting in Dublin will finalise once and for all whether windsurfing has lost its place on the Olympic programme - after being at the past eight men's regattas, and six for women - in favour of kiteboarding - or whether the windsurfing fraternity has mustered enough support to change the 19-17 vote in favour of the kites which rocked the community in May in Italy.

The kiteboarding proponents galvanised support and got the decision; the feeling was the windsurfing people had become a shade complacent and got an unexpected shock.

Since then, the windsurfers have been pushing buttons hard to get the decision changed for Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The vote is scheduled for Saturday. The odds favour the kites holding on. Two votes are possible.

First, delegates vote on whether to reopen the discussion. A total of 75 per cent must support revisiting the issue or else the matter ends there.

The second vote is then whether to plump for windsurfing or kiteboarding. There cannot be both on the Olympic programme, which is restricted to 10 classes.

As far as Yachting New Zealand is concerned it has found itself in a ticklish situation.

YNZ officially supports windsurfing. However, after a meeting in Auckland on Labour Day, it, along with Yachting Australia, are now part of the Oceania Sailing Federation, or Area L as it's known in ISAF-speak. All other Oceania nations favour the kites.

The Area L instruction to its representatives to ISAF - Australian Dave Tillett and New Zealand's Jan Dawson - is to support kiteboarding. The first vote is done by area; the second is where YNZ has scope to put its personal preference.

There is a backstory to this. The International Olympic Committee is always keen to broaden the number of countries who can contest the Games. Put simply, kites are seen as a cheaper option than windsurfers and therefore viewed as an easier way of getting the Pacific Islands into the Games.

Financial and coaching muscle are not strong suits of most of the Oceania nations, ergo kites have more appeal.

YNZ chief executive David Abercrombie confirmed yesterday that after talks with Sail Auckland regatta organisers, a kiteboarding section will be included for the first time in the regatta in early February - irrespective of which way the vote goes in Dublin.

"It is a good thing. Whichever way you look at it, kites are here to stay," Abercrombie said. It will be the racing version, rather than freestyle, which ties in with the form to be used in Rio, if it gets the final tick this week.

"There's been a lot of talk about how dangerous it is but most of that is in freestyling rather than the racing form, where they've shown the world racing can be performed safely and in big numbers."

Whichever way the vote goes, there will be tears. Windsurfing has been an Olympic strength for New Zealand, it has produced seven medals at a time when the nation's traditional sailing strength has been lean at the Games, at least until Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie's 470 gold and Peter Burling and Blair Tuke's 49er silver in London this year.

However, should windsurfing get a late reprieve, the kiteboarders will be aggrieved. No one disputes its rise in popularity. The Olympics are a sport's perfect vehicle for presenting its credentials on the grandest stage. They've argued a strong case.

- NZ Herald

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