Sunday, May 11, 2008

Welcome to the Family, Iran

Most of the sailors in America hate US Sailing, and they don't know why.

Write that on the blackboard a hundred times and see me after class. Or don't.

'Tis the merry month of May and we don't need another journalist pundifying on. We need the reincarnation of Franz Kafka. To hold up a mirror.

It's not as though the world of sailing suddenly woke up transformed into an insect and then proceeded in the manner of Kafka's traveling salesman—lying in bed testing his new-found, wiggly legs and ruminating on how hard he has it relative to other traveling salesmen. (The Metamorphosis)

It's not as though we are on trial and no one will tell us why. (The Trial)

We are on trial before ourselves, indicted for delivering neither a comprehensible America's Cup nor a comprehensible Olympic mission. It's an international problem, however, not an American problem.

It seems we cannot agree to stand on this leg, or those wiggly many. Is Olympic sailing obligated to represent every corner of the sport, or is it an opportunity to shape and promote high-end sailing? If the former, then we are failing. If the latter, why isn't anybody in the driver's seat? How did we, as a sport, get to this point, with both our international governing body (ISAF) and our American governing body (US Sailing) addicted to funding through the Olympic Games, which doesn't hate us, but does not need us.

I suspect the answer is "easily." Witness people resisting the suggestion that more skippers be required to pay dues to US Sailing. People are confused, and I don't think that's clarity rising on the horizon.

Last November the U.S. delegation clearly explained why it did not vote to support the multihull as an Olympic category for 2012, even though as individuals they like multihulls just fine. The moves and the pressure points, however, were so Machiavellian as to be incomprehensible to the average joe who just likes sailing and wants to do the right thing for the good of all.

I wasn't expecting any other outcome from the ISAF re-vote on 2012 equipment—the voting in Qingdao over the weekend left everything as-is, dropping the multihull as a category—and I have no vehemence to express on behalf of this faction or that. Is it absurd to not include multihulls in an Olympic lineup? Of course. Is it absurd to be making the choice in the way that we do? There's the thing.

I don't see a beaten path toward a higher level of dialogue. Perhaps, dare I say it, toward inspiration. Olympic participation is a powerful force that shapes sailboat racing in a way that is too important, and has too much potential, to be left to politics. Very often the "debate" about putting our best foot forward (out of how many wiggly little legs and feet, Franz?) is reduced to personal attacks, and we saw a lot of those in the wake of the decision last fall that dropped the multihull. Had the US Sailing delegation voted the other way, "for the future of the sport," the attacks would have come from a different quarter, but they would have flown just as thick and fast. Sometimes it takes a thick skin to be a volunteer.

You gotta love this paragraph published at ISAF to explain the vote in Qingdao:

The first step in the proposal, to “reaffirm their decision on the 2012 Olympic Events made in November 2007” was not carried. Council then proceeded to the next two proposals in the submission, to vote on whether the selected events for either the men’s or women’s events should be changed. Standing by their decision of November 2007, the Council gave a clear message to support the events as already approved, with neither proposal securing the two-thirds majority required to change.

Hmm. With none of those proposals carrying, it sounds to me like a conflicted group. The "clear message" to me is not that, and this paragraph quickly follows in the report published by ISAF:

Speaking after the Council decision, Olympic athlete and President of the International Tornado Association, Carolijn BROUWER (NED) commented, “The multihull sailors had lost some faith in ISAFs direction on the Olympic events, but after today’s decision where more than 50% of the Council did not reaffirm the November decision, it feels a little bit like an apology. There is a glimmer of hope. Listening to the debate, we are confident the multihull event will be back on the Olympic programme in the future and the multihull community will work with ISAF to achieve that objective.”

Which, as voices of reconciliation go, is fine. But again it sounds like one more competing special interest, not a vision of what the Olympic Sailing Games could be. Kafka said of his own life, "I have hardly anything in common with myself."

Say it ain't so, and welcome to the family . . .

The latest member of the ISAF family was welcomed with the approval of Iran as an ISAF Full Member, bringing the total number of ISAF member nations to 126.

The America's Cup? The next absurd turn in mismanaged PR is, I believe, playing out live on Scuttlebutt—Kimball