Imminent ISA report to address the current crisis in sailing

No shortage of issues for the national authority to tackle

Competitors jockey for position  in the Laser European and World Sailing Championships at Dun Laoghaire last summer.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Competitors jockey for position in the Laser European and World Sailing Championships at Dun Laoghaire last summer. Photograph: Eric Luke

The outcome of the

board of the Irish Sailing Association’s focus on the structures and delivery of the sport is expected soon – perhaps in a matter of weeks – and sweeping changes can be expected.

The result will, it is hoped, place the sport on a firm footing and address the issues raised by those at grassroots level who laid blame unequivocally at the national authority’s table.

The report of the Strategic Review Group earlier this year highlighted numerous concerns ranging from excessive bureaucracy to poor understanding of the role of the ISA, weaknesses in the board and governance structures and a perception that the ISA is poor value for money.

And much more.

A theme touched on in the report is the fragmented nature of sailing and duplication of resources. Sailing sub-divides into many ways including Olympic and high-performance, oceanic and offshore, inshore including handicap keelboats and one-designs, dinghies etc.

Classic classes

Each is further divided by the proliferation of equipment and event types ranging from monohull to multihulls and now more recently foiling skiffs and boards.

Then there are classic classes and events as well, not to mention cruising and even tall ships that come under the sailing banner – albeit from the more recreational side of the house.

Currently there are 37 classes alone affiliated to the ISA, each entitled to hold a “national championship”.

This mirrors the international situation where more than 105 classes or types of boat are affiliated to the International Sailing Federation with a similar number of world and continental champions.

Then there are the various types of handicapping systems and other types of sailing such as Match and Team Racing, disabled sailing, offshore racing and as many as seven round the world races.

This situation of the sport watering itself down can in part be explained by catering for a range of ages, physical sizes, abilities and even financial resources. The “lifelong sport” is not an empty promise and the issues faced by the sport may even seem alien to those immersed in the joy of sailing on a sometimes daily basis.

Other classes

It could also be argued that sailing has fragmented itself to a point where it has questionable relevance to itself. How many sailors of one discipline actually follow or care about what happens in other classes or events?

There’s little talk about how the sport affects or could affect those not directly involved such as local communities, about economic benefits, the potential for attracting new participants, health and education advantages etc etc.

But we are promised change.

With plummeting membership and participation, failure to retain juniors and youth, increasing age-profile of existing participants, affordability issues, cheaper and easy alternative sports, lack of sponsorship, poor media coverage and a drop in volunteerism – there’s certainly plenty of issues to address.

All of the above point to a pressing crisis within the sport.

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