Ten sailing medals are planned for the 2024 Olympics. Nine were already set in advance. For the tenth discipline, the International Olympic Committee had to choose between kitesurfing and offshore sailing for mixed two-handed crews. Now it is clear: Kite surfing will be divided into two classes, separated for men and women. Mixed double handed offshore sailing will not be part of the Olympic Games. The IOC’s decision came last week. How did it come about?
World Championship Kitesurfing in China 2016 © AKI / Alexandru Baranescu
In 2018, World Sailing had voted to include the new discipline of offshore mixed teams from the 2024 Olympics. In doing so, the mixed double-handed crews would have exemplified the social criteria of the “2020 +5” Olympic agenda. But the road to a new Olympic sailing class is long and rich in obstacles.
Which boat should it be? In December 2019, a request was sent to manufacturers and class associations, to which twelve manufacturers responded with their model proposals. They are the Dehler 30 OD, Django 8s, Far East 28 R, Figaro 3, J-Boats the J/88, J/99 and the J/105, JPK1030, L 30, Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, TEN2, and the Vector 6.5. Then came the global pandemic.
The IOC has concerns
In December 2020, the IOC said it wanted to further review the approval of the class. The unusual behaviour for the IOC to question an International federation’s decision drew attention. A big question mark hung over the agreed changes that had been agreed.
In April 2021, the IOC expressed scepticism that World Sailing’s plan for the new sailing class could work from a “field of play” and “broadcasting” perspective. Safety and cost concerns had to be addressed by World Sailing. But even the reference to the gender balance of the crews and the usability of existing regatta structures could not convince the IOC. The decision against Olympic mixed offshore sailing from 2024 thus was announced on June 11, 2021.
Mixed Offshore team Max Gurgl and Lena Weiskichel © Kassian Jürgens
Mixed Offshore sailing attracts young women
As the drama unfolded, many commented on mixed offshore sailing. German Laser sailor Lena Weiskichel said: “Just the idea of offshore sailing at the Olympics has generated great enthusiasm. So the Dehler 30 OD class will now sail a special program to attract more young sailors and women to the class. And it’s working. I’m only 21 years old and have heard from a lot of my friends that they didn’t get interested in offshore sailing until the mixed offshore event was announced.”
Shirley Robertson © Magenta Project
In the last 18 months – the Coronavirus year – sailing with two-person crews has become increasingly popular, inshore and offshore. That’s because the small teams allowed sailors to better adapt to the Coronavirus restrictions.
What the new class would have meant for the Olympics is summed up by Olympic sailor Shirley Robertson: “Sailing offshore in teams of two would have attracted potential competitors who weren’t interested in dinghy sailing”, Robertson said. “Most importantly, to me, it would create a different pathway into long term inclusion and commitment in the sport.”
What Robertson means is also a boost for women sailing: “Creating a mixed double handed pathway, would, following a Games cycle, produce a pool of really talented women decision makers with an irrefutable skillset as valuable onboard as their male counterparts. This would be an unprecedented step forward. It would be a stride towards the levelling of a playing field that is so very far from being equal across all aspects of our sport.”
Offshore sailing is becoming popular
In America, North Sails President Ken Read suggested that adding another dinghy or board class to the Olympics would not increase the appeal of sailing. The boats all look the same to sailors and non-sailors. An offshore event, on the other hand, represents the type of sailing that 2/3 of the world’s sailors do. Read added that hosting the event for the first time in France, with the country’s big heritage in offshore sailing, is the best venue for the event’s premiere.
Ian Walker © private
Two-time Olympic champion, Ian Walker is more sceptical. In a recent interview in Seahorse Magazine he cautioned we should be careful what we wish for. “I can believe there would be an awesome race in a fleet of supplied boats for a lucky few in Marseilles, but I am still not clearer on how we get from here to there.” Walker is Director of Racing at the RYA and a very successful sailor himself – two-time Olympian, Volvo Ocean Race winner and America’s Cup skipper.
He says: “In the time since the discipline was selected by World Sailing, there has been little development of fleets of boats and precious few events. Without fleets of evenly matched boats there can be no regattas, and without any regattas, there can be no rankings and no method of selection for these events or for the Olympics themselves.”
What more proof is needed?
I can only counter that I am currently enjoying mixed double handed offshore sailing with James Harayda on a Jeanneau Sunfast 3000. We are setting up this year for the Rolex Fastnet Race in August 2021 and competing in the UK Double Handed Series.
Dee Caffari and James Harayda on board © Felix Diemer
The fleet has grown and so has the level of performance. There will be circa 90 teams competing in the Fastnet Race, more than in Class 0 and Class 1 combined. What more proof is needed of the growing popularity of offshore double handed teams?
But water still flows down the Thames. For 2028 in Los Angeles, I see a good chance that the discipline will make it into Olympic sailing in the second attempt.