Sailing’s diversity holds great potential, and it is time to deliver

The five-year strategy for Irish sailing must be a single unifying vision that delivers meaningful opportunity and change at every level

Ireland is a natural venue for sailing being an island, and there are few places more than a 50-minute drive from a body of water. There is now a huge network of clubs, training centres, harbours and marinas

Ireland is a natural venue for sailing being an island, and there are few places more than a 50-minute drive from a body of water. There is now a huge network of clubs, training centres, harbours and marinas

 

Irish Sailing’s strategy for the next five years is being finalised, and will be revealed around Easter next year.

There have been some 1,000 contributors over recent weeks. Online respondents, regional club meetings, special interest groups and direct one-to-one interviews all contributed to the plan that will direct the sport until the middle of 2025.

New direction in the strategy is almost inevitable as demands on individuals’ time and other resources mean a participation-based sport has much to lose if it is out of touch.

This column was amongst the contributors, and offered these short points that may possibly make the final version of the strategy.

The first is that sailing is wonderfully diverse; think of all the different avenues on offer ranging from the sporting elite of Olympic and professional events to amateur and club competitions.There are also widespread and more accessible programmes for people with intellectual disabilities – disabled sailing is already well established.

Ireland is a natural venue for the sport being an island, and there are few places more than a 50-minute drive from a body of water. There is now a huge network of clubs, training centres, harbours and marinas.

However, in a country the size of Ireland this diversity also risks fragmentation, and a national authority that attempts to satisfy every single constituent with a custom solution risks failure.

As a so-called “minority sport” there are not enough financial or organisational resources available to make a sufficient difference without depriving another constituent of assistance. There is risk of spreading limited resources too thinly.

So any initiatives, new or existing, must aim to deliver by the tens of thousands in terms of people impacted and likely cost. The question remains, however, on what exactly if not the dozens of well deserving clubs and activity organisers.

Participation

Arguably the biggest point of pain everywhere (and not just in this sport) is decline in participation. A grand plan such as a five-year strategy must have as its overarching goal something around which such a disparate sport can unite.

Not too many years ago this might have been a national team such as a round-the-world race boat or maybe an America’s Cup entry.

Irish Sailing would want us to get in behind our talented Olympians on their journey. While this is laudable it only ticks certain boxes, and not the fundamental challenge of getting people past whatever obstacle they perceive – cost, social standings, fear of water, seasickness – and on to boats so that they can experience what so many people are so passionate about.

And of course it is not a sport that will convert every newcomer. But until somebody takes the lead and creates the initiatives based on a common vision for sailing, then we are faced with a magic roundabout of fudge and avoidance.

So the litmus test for the Irish Sailing 2020-2025 Strategic Plan next April must be a single unifying vision that delivers meaningful opportunity and change at every level.

Sailing’s diversity holds great potential, and the time to deliver this has arrived.

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