Forum plots course for future of Irish sailing

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The Irish Sailing Association (ISA) is drafting a blueprint for sailing this week after receiving 300 suggestions at last Saturday’s small boat sailing and youth training forum.

The National Yacht Club (NYC) gathering of clubs and classes heard comments from over 120 attendees on the performance of the national authority, which has struggled to stem a decline in membership since 2008.

Chaired by former president Paddy Maguire, the meeting heard from another past president, Roger Bannon, who has been openly critical of the ISA.

Delegates expressed concerns on a wide range of issues, from junior training to the decline in the senior dinghy scene.

A UK report published this week into water sport participation also noted a reduction in participation levels. It’s a sign Irish boating is not alone in being affected by this recession.

There was little doubt the session would be robust, but overall the heartfelt contributions allowed for a constructive debate. One obvious suggestion from Cormac Bradley of the Fireball dinghy class was that the ISA help smaller classes to combine regional events so clubs might benefit from bigger fleets. This could make hosting events viable, even profitable.

It’s a valid point that if followed up would demonstrate the ISA is putting clubs and classes on the top of its agenda.

So many written suggestions were made, the forum was unable to hear them all. They are being compiled into a report the association plans to publish.

Perhaps the most significant point came from the association itself. Chief executive Harry Hermon acknowledged that engagement between the ISA and experienced, willing volunteers had been one of the casualties of eliminating the ISA’s former committee structure. He said engagement with members had diminished.

It is clear the ISA needs to change tack. If it works on small problems first it will develop a new network of relationships. Taking up Bradley’s suggestion, for example, could lead to a revival of the former Dinghy Week concept, a one-time worthy showcase of Irish one-design sailing.

It’s not the first time the decline of sailing has been raised as an issue and there is no obvious solution. As clubs continue to battle the economic storms, at least now the ISA has identified that a section of sailing constituents have slipped through the crack between policy making and implementation.