Sailors have learned over and over again that nothing is final until the ISAF General Council sings. Now that the 2012 Annual Conference has ended, the Windsurfers are going home happy again. And the Kiteboarders must be wondering what happened, with their brand new membership in the Olympic family ended so abruptly after only six months.

Windsurfers at Weymouth

The Windsurfing classes will be back for 2016 - photo Onedition

A quick summary:  In November 2011, ISAF announced it would decide the equipment (classes) to be sailed in the 2016 Games at its mid-year meeting in May, 2012. (Read Planning ahead for 2016.)  At the May 2012 meeting, the following slate was announced:

  • Laser/Laser Radial

  • Men’s and Women’s 470

  • Finn

  • 49er

  • 49erFX (women’s double trapeze skiff)

  • Nacra 17 (coed catamaran)

  • Kiteboarding (men’s and women’s)

The last three classes were brand new to the Olympic family, which represented a change to forty per cent of the roster. (Read Olympic Sailing Circus Continues.) ISAF also eliminated keelboats for the first time in Olympic sailing history—and removed match racing only three short months before its Olympic debut. Sailors around the world wondered if ISAF had gone too far, in their latest push to make sailing more TV friendly.

The keelboat classes (Star, Women’s Match Racing) rallied supporters via social media and talked about options to get their equipment back in for Rio. After all, Brazil’s best chances for a medal in sailing are in the Star. But only the Windsurfers initiated a legal challenge to a decision they claimed was “perverse and unfair.” And now, six months later, Windsurfing and its RS:X board are back in the Games for 2016.

Regardless of whether you think Windsurfing or Kiteboarding is more Olympics-worthy, this marks another ruling that will set athletes, federations, and sponsors reeling—again. Without a stable base of equipment from one quadrennium to the next, it’s hard for countries (especially the smaller ones ISAF is trying to bring into the fold) to invest in boats for training. Just ask Brazil, the host country for 2016; they received delivery of four Elliott 6Ms on the same day (one year ago) that ISAF decided to eliminate them from the Rio event.

Spectators may not be thinking about the next Olympics, but athletes and sponsors and federations began making plans for Rio before the medals were even awarded in Weymouth. Training time, schedules, ordering equipment, and figuring out how to pay for it all requires as much advance planning as possible.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: We need a more consistent and transparent way of making decisions that affect the livelihood and future of so many at the top of our sport. A sensible roster that balances men’s and women’s medals across a range of platforms (dinghy, keelboat, multihull, boards) would be a great start. But with most of the delegates also involved in the industry, and everyone acutely aware of the medal chances for each country in each class, that seems a distant pipedream.

ISAF did make a small step in the right direction with the announcement of four core events and their equipment for 2020. Hopefully the new ISAF President, Carlo Croce (ITA), will help lead our sport toward even more stability and transparency in future decisions. Because unplanned, frequent changes in Olympic equipment are not good for anyone—and they’re especially hard on athletes in pursuit of the Olympic dream.

For more information and details, visit the ISAF website.

Written by: Carol Cronin
Carol Cronin has published several novels about the Olympics, sailing, hurricanes, time travel, and old schooners. She spends as much time on the water as possible, in a variety of boats, though most have sails.