The mission to get sailing reinstated in the Paralympics for 2024 is officially underway after the launch of the Para World Sailing Strategic Plan 2017-2020 at the World Sailing Annual Conference in Barcelona in November. The strategy outlined World Sailing’s plans to make disabled sailing more affordable and inclusive, underpinned by good governance and greater global awareness, to meet the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) criteria for consideration for Games re-inclusion. Submissions for 2024 must be made to the IPC by mid-2018.
What resonates very strongly throughout the strategy document is World Sailing’s desire to grow disabled sailing and competition worldwide, with the target of having 32 competing nations on three continents for the 2017 Para World Sailing Championships next August, growing to 40 nations on four continents by 2020.
But how does that translate to what happens right now?
John Derbyshire, the RYA’s Director of Racing, explains: “The long-term vision is a genuine, real commitment to disabled sailing and racing, achieved through engaging the emerging nations and working in the global regions.
“But to be in a position to have a robust submission with the IPC by the middle of 2018, who will then make their decision by the end of that year, means achieving some of those targets in tight timescales, then sustaining them for long-term impact.
“It is achievable, but it is going to take the new Para World Sailing
Committee having a real can-do attitude and supporting Para World Sailing Manager, Massimo Dighe, in interacting with key nations, while also requiring considerable cooperative efforts from the bigger sailing nations to make the strategy work.”
Getting geared up
One of the earliest decisions World Sailing has to make in its bid for 2024 Paralympic reinstatement is regarding equipment.
To make international competition more accessible, and for World Sailing to provide containers of kit at events so sailors can just turn up and race, the current proposal is for three classes – the current 2.4mR one-person keelboat plus two new classes in the form of Hansa 303s and Weta Trimarans (crew configurations to be confirmed). The classes for next year’s Para Sailing Worlds will be formally ratified by March.
All of which means World Sailing effectively has the 2017 European competition season and Sailing World Cup Miami in January 2018 to convince the IPC that the chosen boats, competition format and participation strategy have taken disabled sailing to the next level in achieving the IPC’s objectives for Paralympic sports.
So where does this leave sailors in the UK with potential Paralympic aspirations?
John continued: “In terms of trying to balance high performance with worldwide distribution, the three suggested classes are a good start. For the RYA that means going back to basics and trying to get more people racing more often.
“We will be formulating a strategy to invest in more racing at selected Sailability clubs and regional High Performance Clubs, where we already have fleets of 2.4mRs, around the country. We will also be looking to put together, primarily for the 2.4mRs at this stage, a type of grants programme for non-funded sailors.
“There will be many sailors out there who would love to go to a Paralympics, but who are working full-time. These grants will support them in entering key events and accessing coach support so they can still campaign at the highest possible level while deliberations continue around the sport’s Paralympic future.
“The type of system exists in the Olympic classes via a series of National Rankers. In terms of sailor commitment required, at this stage, it will be like elite sailors in non-Olympic classes, such as the International 14s and 505s for example.
“To help World Sailing achieve its objectives in engaging more nations for events such as the Para Sailing Worlds, we could also potentially look to provide coaching resource and make some equipment available to not only support our own sailors but a number of emerging nations too.”
Feeding the grassroots
Amongst World Sailing’s key strategy objectives are to increase the number of youth age and female sailors, with a target of 25% sailor participants below the age of 30.
John admits that without yet knowing the confirmed classes and crew configurations it is difficult to put more formalised performance pathways in place to identify and nurture emerging talent in disabled sailing classes.
”Step one is to achieve 32 nations in enough international events that gives the IPC confidence sailing should be re-included. Only if and when re-inclusion is assured will we be able to seek support from UK Sport to ramp up investment and focus on raising standards. There will still be over five years from the time of any decision to the 2024 Games themselves.”
Nevertheless, he is confident through the RYA’s junior and youth programmes, Sailability clubs and the current 2.4m programme being run from the regional High Performance Clubs, the RYA’s strong network of coaches and instructors has the knowledge and experience to recognise potential racing talent.
With limited on-the-water activity over the winter months, the RYA has time to consider, communicate and implement its 2017 club, coaching and grants plan. This is likely to include identifying selection events to qualify for funding and/or coaching support for a number of international competitions, from August’s Para Sailing Worlds, the 2.4mR Open Worlds and the Sailing World Cup events.
Where we are 12 months from now will go a long way to determining if sailing has restated its case strongly enough for the IPC to reignite the Paralympic flame for hundreds, if not thousands, of Games hopefuls in more countries than ever before.
John concludes: “Of course it’s right the world body of any sport should be looking out for all aspects of it, and this strategy now places disabled sailing as an integral part of World Sailing’s ambitions for the sport worldwide.
“There are still a lot of unknowns and details to be sorted out before anyone can really state with any certainty what its Paralympic pathway might look like. But the Member National Authorities at the conference greeted the strategy positively and we are all equally committed to supporting World Sailing in achieving its targets in 2017 and beyond. We all want sailing back in the Paralympics.”(www.rya.org.uk)