It is remarkable how quickly the year has gone by, with the 2017 World Sailing Annual Conference and AGM already just around the corner.
With the sailing family coming together again in the coming weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my first year as World Sailing President and provide you with a brief summary of the progress we are making, as well as those areas where further progress must be made.
Since our time at last year's Annual Conference in Barcelona, to this year's Conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in just a few days' time, sailing has achieved many milestones – but there is still much more to do. Now is the time for all of us to reflect on the current status of our sport, the roles we play in its success and the positive contributions we all need to ensure its future development.
Breakdown from Barcelona
With many issues that needed to be addressed at our Annual Conference in Barcelona last year, World Sailing was at crossroads. Notably, sailing was no longer part of the Paralympic programme, and our sport ranked in the bottom grouping of sports within the IOC's system.
Meanwhile, we were struggling to grow the sport geographically, and experiencing difficulties in engaging our grassroots level, providing no clear path to the elite level of the sport. From a technical perspective, a number of issues were arising regarding our events, including debates around extra medals, formats, quotas, qualifiers and showcase events.
Equally importantly, there was a lack of clear distinction between strategy, management and execution, with slow decision-making and limited commercial and sponsorship success resulting.
While it was always unrealistic for these issues to be solved overnight, it was important for significant improvements to be made on all fronts immediately, and that has been my chief priority.
The key motivation behind World Sailing establishing our priorities for this year and beyond was our MNA survey, conducted in March of this year. Based on the feedback we received from MNAs, we identified three core areas where, as an organisation and as a sport, we must do more – enhancing sailing's standing within the Olympics and Paralympics, growing the sport globally, and establishing a more efficient, trustworthy and attractive organisation. Though there is of course more work to be done, I am very pleased to report that the World Sailing Board have been working hard to improve on each of these areas, and significant progress has been made.
Enhance Sailing's standing within the Olympics and Paralympics
As many of you will be aware, maintaining our presence in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement is crucial for the future development of our sport, and important steps have been made in the past year in order to strengthen our relationship with both Movements. Having lost our Paralympic status in January 2015, it was a great pleasure to see a record number of countries represented in the Para World Sailing Championships in Kiel, Germany, in June of this year. Such a spread of nations is just one aspect of our Para Sailing Strategic Plan, and we are looking forward to spring next year when we apply for re-introduction into the Paralympic Sports Programme for 2024 and beyond. On this note, special thanks must go to Massimo Dighe, our Para World Sailing Manager, who has been working tirelessly for this great cause.
Pleasingly, sailing has already been confirmed for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris, a decision that was reached at the IOC Session in Lima, Peru, this September. This is good news in that it provides us with some stability going forward, but it is important to mention that the evaluation and decision of the events will be completed only after the 2020 Games in Tokyo. In the meantime, it is essential that World Sailing establishes a strong Olympic event programme in order to secure and develop our existing platform. Now is the time, therefore, to be proactive in aligning our sport with the values of Olympic Agenda 2020, including a greater emphasis on gender equality and establishing a well-defined events structure. From a more personal perspective, having attended the Session and having met with many leaders from within the Olympic Movement over the past 12 months, including the IOC President Thomas Bach on several occasions, I am pleased with the progress we are making, though of course there is more to be done.
Grow the Sport Globally
The desire to make sailing a sport for all generations and all regions was one of the key reasons why I decided to run for the Presidency at this time last year. In the period since, I have been pleased to see positive strides taken to enhance the accessibility of our sport. The Emerging Nations Programme has continued to progress, with five Youth ENP Performance Clinics being held in 2017 in Singapore, South Africa, Vanuatu, Poland and Dominican Republic. This Programme plays an important role in developing skills for sailors and coaches in developing nations. There are also many other good programmes which could be used globally, and I would like to see these developed further as we spread our sport across the world and engage with new sailing nations.
In order to support these programmes, lasting changes must also come from World Sailing. One of the key reasons behind the relocation of our Headquarters from Southampton to London, which was completed this month, was to position our organisation in a more accessible location and attract a truly international workforce. This month also saw the completion of our Strategic Partnership with Rolex who, having long been very valuable supporters of sailing through the sponsorship of events, will now support World Sailing on our mission to grow and develop the sport at a grassroots level. A similar partnership was made with the Volvo Ocean Race & Volvo Group in May, as part of a plan to develop future generations of offshore sailors. While the tangible impact of these developments will take time, partnerships such as these lay the groundwork for meaningful and long-lasting success, and I am truly excited about what can be achieved in the next few years.
Improved broadcasting of our events is also fundamental to the accessibility of our sport. Broadcasting our sport with quality, including the use of new media, live commentary and systemised camera coverage, can help to bring the sport to a greater audience and build a focus around our athletes – the stars of our sport. Similarly, using data, such as tracking systems and weather conditions updates, are other ways in which we can help to build an understanding of sailing, which can only be beneficial in inspiring the next generation of sailors and attracting additional sponsors. Over the past year, we have seen positive developments made in these areas, with increased viewing numbers for our events, the continued evolution of the World Sailing Show, and strengthened partnerships with SailTracks and SAP.
Establish a more efficient, trustworthy and attractive organisation
Since I was elected President, and indeed before, I have been very clear about how much potential lies in our MNAs and Class Associations; potential that must be used to our advantage. On World Sailing's part, we must ensure that we establish a truly open and transparent governance structure and decision-making process, with as much involvement from MNAs and sailors as possible. Indeed, transparency was one of the key reasons for the creation of this newsletter, through which I have tried to keep you all informed of the developments that are taking place, and will continue to do so.
Structurally, important developments have also been made. Having received the feedback from the MNA survey, this was a clear area of improvement for World Sailing, and certain initiatives have already been implemented based on this. Committees are now limited in size, helping to create a more agile and efficient decision-making process, while Committees have also been reminded of the importance of specialists serving, as opposed to members being appointed solely on a nationality basis.
We must do better!
Whilst we have seen many important and positive developments take place in the past year, there remains a lot to be done, and we must do better!
We cannot take our place in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for granted. More must be done in terms of aligning ourselves with Olympic Agenda 2020, and we must be proactive in ensuring that our participation levels, our events structure and the quality of our fleets in all 10 Olympic disciplines strengthen sailing's case. On the Paralympic side, we will find out if we have been successful in being reintroduced into the Paralympic Games next year. If so, this would be a fantastic achievement, but in any case, we must do more to integrate para sailing within our framework and use the momentum we have to expand its profile among our MNAs.
We must also do more to make our sport as accessible as possible. As mentioned, this means improved broadcasting and coverage, but it also means the enhancement of development programmes that promote gender equality, youth development and the growth of sailing in new markets. The Emerging Nations Programme is one example of this, and we must see how we can further develop this programme, as well as establish others that will be particularly beneficial by improving access to sailing.
Fundamentally, if we are to achieve this, and fulfil our potential as a whole, we at World Sailing must first start with ourselves. We need to consider where we can improve to ensure that we are actively working to address our challenges and exploit our opportunities, and this process starts with our governance. We have established a Governance Commission, which will examine the areas where our priorities are unclear – there are issues that have become overly politicised and, as a result, we are hindering our own success. Put simply, we must make sure that we are efficient and effective, with our various functions working in unison, both amongst each other and with the MNAs and sailors around the world whom we represent.
As President, I believe that the future of sailing is bright, and I am more optimistic than ever about the progress we can make in the coming years. There are many different factors that will help us to realise our collective potential, and if we are to achieve this, we must be truly united in our future endeavours. I look forward to the Annual Conference and AGM in the coming days and seeing as many of you as possible there!
I have very much enjoyed the opportunity of keeping all of our MNAs, athletes and officials up to date on the latest happenings around World Sailing through this newsletter. In turn, I hope that you all continue to reach out to me with new and constructive ideas for the future of sailing, either via E-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.