Thursday, November 22, 2007

Talkin' Olympic Blues

In the wake of the Olympics flap, shouldn't we at least talk to US Sailing and ask, "What gives?"

Yeah, I think so.

When our international sailing authorities met and dropped multihulls as a category for the 2012 Games, a lot of multihull sailors took it as a personal insult. Catamaran and trimaran sailors tend to feel marginalized anyway, and many of them think their boats don't get the respect they deserve. Thus an avalanche of words like "disenfranchised" rained down after the ISAF Annual Meeting, and the US Sailing delegation was widely given the, um, credit.

So here we are talking to Dean Brenner on his cell phone, and Brenner is telling us, "There have been suspicions of secret deals. I'll look anybody in the eye and say, no. But we never shied away from saying that men's keelboat was a priority for us, and that's because we believe it affords the US team our best medal chances. You could take a different approach. Some people say you should make decisions, not on medal prospects, but on what's best for the sport, and that sounds good, but if your team doesn't win medals your fund raising is going to dry up and you're not going to be successful in the long run, are you? In the end, we made a sensible, tactical choice on how to vote, and the only legitimate gripe is if you think the US would have a better medal chance in catamarans."

Brenner, you should know, is a Connecticut-based volunteer who took over the job of chairing U.S. Olympic sailing a few years ago, declaring a mission to focus high energy on frontline do-ables.

And now we're talking to another volunteer on his cell phone, and that would be US Sailing President Jim Capron, who says, "My email box has been filled . . . "

Okay, let's break for a little housekeeping: ISAF selects Olympic events, or categories, five years ahead of each Olympiad, then meets again a year later and selects specific classes. The IOC required ISAF to reduce its list from 11 events to 10 events for the 2012 Games in the UK. The national authorities have competing interests in such a case.

And there we were.

Ahead of time, Capron said, "US Sailing voted at the board level not to support open events (men and women together), because historically they turn into men's events. Last spring we sent ISAF a submission proposing gender equity, five events for men and five for women."

As yours truly understands it, US Sailing's submissions last spring included a top-four list to ISAF that did not include multihulls or windsurfers and, if I get Capron correctly, he's saying: "That incurred the wrath of multihull sailors and board sailors because they perceived that we were voting 'no' to them. Wrong, but they were not in our top four. Later, we changed the submission to a full slate of ten, but it wasn't so much a change in position as a change in the public submission."

Now we're in Estoril, Portugal at the ISAF Annual Meeting and, "The Events Committee put up a slate, but the Council typically does not vote the slate," Capron says. "That was true again in 2007. Once that happens, each event is back on the table. Our proposal for 5-5 gender equity was voted down, and soon it was apparent that five of seven events were a shoe-in, no matter how US Sailing voted. The windsurfer was in, because the rest of the world wants it. That left keelboats and multihulls in question. If we had voted exactly in line with our submission—no to the windsurfer, yes to the rest—it would have been a non-vote because the windsurfer was going to be in. So we had a choice, and the only way we could express that choice was to vote for one and not the other, the keelboat and not the multihull."

Now we're switching back to our conversation with Dean Brenner . . .

"We believed that if we voted for both the keelboat and the multihull," Brenner says, "we were wasting our vote and leaving the final decision to somebody else. It was a close vote. It could have come to a tie, and that means you've taken a chance. My dream scenario would have multihulls racing and not boards, but somebody was going to be left out, and the boards were definitely in.

"Back in the day when ISAF dropped the Soling in favor of the Star as the Olympic keelboat," Brenner says, "I was sitting on $150,000 worth of world class Soling equipment that suddenly went to being worth about $20,000. Was I pissed off? You bet. But I never thought of it as a guage of ISAF's feelings about spinnakers on keelboats."

And that means

There's no other sport where being part of the Olympic Games has so much power to skew the deal. I mean, there's no reason for Lightnings to be part of the Olympics, but if they were, it would radically redefine what it means to race Lightnings. And there was a point ahead of the ISAF meeting where keelboats were apparently being squeezed out, and keelboat sailors were complaining in the forums that they were being, that word again, disenfranchised. And a while back in this space we considered the pressures that Olympic participation has placed on the Star class, and the stress on local fleets. And here, listening to these men talk, comes the sense that ISAF -- no matter how informed and motivated the individuals -- is incapable of making any inspired, creative leaps. And unless my ears deceive me, I hear you, my friends, replying, well . . .



You can read the text of the Thanksgiving Day ACM announcement, cancelling plans for a 2009 America's Cup match, either in my earlier post or here.

It promises (threatens?) that Alinghi will not appeal, should the Supreme Court of New York rule that CNEV is not a valid challenger of record. In that case, Alinghi will instead meet BMW Oracle per the terms of the Deed of Gift defining how to handle a match between challenger and defender sans accord.

So. Depending upon the ruling of the court, there is a chance that we could see a best-of-three grudge match in 2008, probably in 90-foot cats. The upside, even if only two teams sail, is that it's an avenue to resolution and a next step. The downside lies with the teams not included (see below). Considering the highs achieved in AC 32 and the lows achieved en route to AC 33, I can only repeat,

Aww, the poor pooch.

I figure the TEAMORIGIN release, in response to the Alinghi release, will receive wide distribution because it is one lively read. Here is an outtake: "We can only hope that common sense will prevail and that over the following days the parties will come to their senses and realise that the offer on the table is a good one for all concerned. Then we could all get on with making our respective arrangements for an event in Valencia in either 2010 or 2011. If that doesn’t happen, we can only surmise that the greed of one side is matched by the belligerence of the other.”

If you haven't tripped across the item already, this is one time you really should follow the CLICK.

Have a happy Thanksgiving weekend no matter—Kimball