Sailing: Funding and belief required to stem flow of talent from Ireland
Saskia Tidey’s decision to defect to Team GBR a result of a lack of forethought at home
Saskia Tidey will campaign with Britain for the 2020 Olympic Games in Toyko. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho.
Reaction to Saskia Tidey’s recent decision to campaign for Britain towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been predictably mixed.
From sympathetic encouragement to disappointment plus the inevitable keyboard warriors, much of the comment reflects the choice she said she faced: sail for Ireland and effectively step backwards to start a fresh campaign as well as face continued funding problems or switch to Team GB and enjoy full resources, an experienced sailing partner and prospects of improving performance.
Nevertheless, losing a high-profile athlete to another country remains a bitter pill to swallow.
Yet for the Irish sailing community it should come as no shock whatsoever: it has happened many times before and was only a matter of when for our Olympians.
The plain truth is that when performance is the ultimate goal, Ireland doesn’t spend what’s needed to deliver the ultimate measure of the talent – the winners’ podium.
Team GB’s eye-watering €30 million for the next four years just for sailing is certainly not forthcoming but it does indicate the plain intent of another island nation’s aspiration and ability to convert this to a result – Olympic medals and more than just a few.
Of course the fallback excuse is our smaller nation status but New Zealand, another island nation of similar population size, firmly debunks that myth.
And it’s not just at Olympic level where the Kiwis achieve success in sailing (or other sports) from round the world races to Americas Cup, inshore or offshore size hasn’t been an obstacle.
Nor has peripherality and, while Ireland isn’t centrally located on the European continent, we enjoy a better strategic location than the New Zealanders do.
Their case study would arguably be a better model for Ireland to follow, especially given the government backing sailing receives there.
As an equipment-based sport, which is often cited as a disadvantage, yet this can be played both ways in terms of the employment and other economic benefits such a sport can bring and not only at elite level but also in the mainstream, where participation grows on the back of the high-profile performers’ achievments.
Another factor with sailing is the multiplicity of disciplines and interests, all acting to water down everything from governance and administration to marketing and shoreside facilties.
As a solution, concentrating specialist fields in locations around our coast to create “centres of world-class excellence” would mean greater use of resources that combined with mainstream and club activities would actually achieve the overall goal.
For example, younger sailors on the ISA performance academy programme speak of Schull with incredible passion as a venue to train and prepare for major international regattas.
Why not expand this to create a permanent camp for other Olympic hopefuls from around the world to visit and share the experience?
Or Cork Harbour as the already mooted training base for ocean racing teams? In terms of access and support facilities, the basics are already in place.
What about Galway and/or Sligo as the new transatlantic stopping-point for cruising sailors?
Other specialities from boat-building to marine tourism all have natural homes around our coasts and waterways without need for massive infrastructural spending.
But joined-up thinking, leadership from the right people and seed capital are needed, ideally at all the same time.
One Olympic medal is a hint of things to come. But funding and collective self-belief – also at the same time – are needed to cast off properly the notion of emigration as the ultimate option in Irish sport.