With much speculation over how and why such a unexpected decision to remove windsurfing as an Olympic sport has been made, Boards set about finding out the details from someone directly involved in process.
Rory Ramsden COO (Chief Operating Officer ie one of the key men in charge) for Olympic windsurfing, is at the very heart of the sport and has played a key role in windsurfing’s inclusion over the years, especially since the RS:X class came into fruition.
Despite the great amount of press coverage, both within windsurfing and the mainstream media, Boards wanted to find out more about how such a shocking and surprising decision came to pass, from the man himself.
Rory has worked to portray Olympic windsurfing in the best light, and assure it’s place in the games. The decision has as mentioned been a shock for everyone, including Rory who says has “totally knocked me off my feet.”
Although there was previous speculation about the prospect for kitesurfing to be part of the Olympics, most assumed it would be as a trial sport, and not a serious contender. Some thought the day kitesurfing took a place at the games would come, but the fact that it is so soon raises questions of the readiness of the sport. The question has also been raised as to why windsurfers and kitesurfers did not fight together, for the inclusion of both sports, rather than one, at the expense of the other.
Rory, can you explain how and why these decisions have been made so soon?
There was a big discussion about whether to make the decision now, or wait until November. A clear majority voted for the decision to be made now to give everyone the maximum amount of time to plan their campaigns.
The delegate from Scandinavia made a direct appeal to the president of ISAF to go to the IOC and ask for additional medals for kitesurfing, but I think it is diplomatic to say he was reluctant to do that for many reasons.
The decision making process ran in two stages, the events committee and the ISAF council. The events committee is a select group of events specialists, whereas the ISAF council are the political elite in sailing. How did the specialist events committee vote?
“The specialist events committee were the first to discuss the decision of windsurfing or kitesurfing to be taken to the next Olympics. Here, the votes were 14 for RS:X men, and two against (Australia and the USA), and for RS:X women there were 15 votes for and again, two against. So, there was a very clear vote in favour of keeping windsurfing, and a great recommendation to ISAF to keep RS:X.”
This recommendation was taken to the ISAF, where a total of 36 votes were up for grabs. With windsurfing taking a clear majority at the events committee, it seemed to be sitting comfortably going into this meeting. What were the final votes?
“I was confident when I walked into the council chamber that we had a minimum of 21 votes for windsurfing, with 15 against, which is a comfortable majority. But the actual vote was 19 for kite, and 17 for windsurfing.”
There were both votes against windsurfing that were expected, and those that were surprising. Which country votes stood out, and why do you believe many changed their votes in favour of windsurfing?
“The Australians and Americans were consistently voting against windsurfing. They were joined by the Irish, who are not known to have a strong windsurf racing team. What was truly shocking, was the Spain who have a very, very strong windsurfing team, voted again windsurfing. This still leaves me speechless.
What makes it even harder to take is that Spain have since recanted and now believe they made a mistake.
The chairman of the Windsurfing and Kitesurfing committee, who would have been expected to abstain from a vote as he could not be seen to be prejudicial to one side of his committee, over the other, voted for kitesurfing.
The nations will inevitably vote for whichever sport they think they have the greatest chance of winning a medal in. This is always the bottom line, and this is reflective in where the votes have come from.”
Kitesurfing put forward a strong case, and two of it’s advocates in particular made strong appeals for the inclusion. How do you think this, and other factors affected the decision?
“Various delegates spoke and gave impassioned pleas for kitesurfing, focussing on the areas of the youth culture and a media friendly event. Nobody on the council really spoke in favour of windsurfing, which may have been their plan.
We knew that kitesurfing had run a strong campaign, but we also knew how strong the RS:X class is. At the men’s 2011 ISAF World Sailing Championships in Perth 2011 there were more nations registered in the RS:X men’s fleet than in the Laser Standard. In March, at the 2012 Worlds, we had 52 nations competing. It is without doubt a class that brings more nations into competition than most, we are second only to the Laser fleet for this.
And we have a strong media appeal supported by a powerful web marketing strategy which produced 95,000 unique visitors. An achievement that is only matched by a multi class regatta like Skandia Sail For Gold.
As a class RS:X is strong, we were pushing all the right buttons, doing everything ISAF were looking for, it does not make sense now that they have listened to kitesurfing.”
Many are discussing whether the RS:X is the correct equipment choice for Olympic windsurfing, and potential ideas for altering the equipment in the long run. Although this may not be an immediate plan, do you think there is value to altering the Olympic windsurfing equipment?
“Of course, the equipment has evolved many times but now is not the time. We should continue to push the RS:X for 2016 and prepare options for 2020.”
Going forward there is already a great backlash against the decision, with everyone in the windsurfing world coming together to reinstate the sport at the Olympics. With a revote in November, how do you plan to regain the votes?
“We need 75% to vote in favour of accepting a submission to change the decision, then a majority once that has happened. While there’s life, there is hope!
Going forward the short term plan, is to identify and pull together a strong campaign team, then organise a meeting with all the stakeholders to devise a multi layered strategy, which will target those who voted against windsurfing, whilst maintaining and strengthening the votes of those who were in favour of windsurfing.”
The Olympics brings a lot of funding into the national authorities, and without that it is hard to say how much they will be able to support the sport. This underlines the importance of having windsurfing as an Olympic sport, many people are already involved both on facebook and through signing the petition, how else can windsurfers get involved and help support the bid to reinstate windsurfing?
“There has been a spontaneous combustion on facebook, throughout other social media, in the press, and of course on the petition.
The petition and the facebook group, have both been created by people who were not to do with the Olympic class, but passionate windsurfers who immediately wanted to do something to fight the decision. It is not about the Olympic class itself, but involves everyone, from the youngest Team 15 member upwards.”
Thank you Rory, for all of your input, we are fully behind the push to reinstate windsurfing and wish you the best of luck going forward.
The decision to include kitesurfing has also thrown up some further questions to the windsurfing community, including how a young kitesurfer can race/train at local lakes as they do for windsurfing, how racing continues under 6-7knots, how start lines are judged, and overriding safety aspects that surely cannot be ignored by the committee.
There are still more questions to ask regarding how such things were initially overlooked by the committee.
Have kitesurfing stepped into the Olympic arena a little too soon? Will they be able to deliver what they have promised in Rio?
Was windsurfing fully prepared for the efforts that kitesurfing have clearly gone to in pursuit of the Olympic dream?
Should windsurfing have foreseen this and gone to greater lengths to push and promote the strong grounding we have as an Olympic discipline?
These are the questions that remain unanswered at the moment, but Boards will continue to attempt to find the answers, as we all strive together to win back Olympic glory.
Search Olympic Windsurfing or RS:X for all the coverage from Boards.
The official message on how YOU can help reinstate windsurfing as an Olympic sport:
Sign the Petition – Reinstate Olympic Windsurfing
We feel very strongly that everyone with something to lose has to be engaged in the process. Those with time to spare, expertise to share or resources to offer should contact [email protected] in the meantime there is plenty to do…
If you have a smartphone or video camera and know a young racer – Do this…
Make a short video with each young racer… Ask two questions:
1. Why do you love windsurfing?
2. What impact has the ISAF decision had on your hopes and dreams?
If you know a parent of a young racer with Olympic dreams – Do this…
Ask how they feel about putting their kids into, what some might view as, an extreme sport that many feel has the potential to impact the rest of their lives in a bad way.
Don’t over complicate it with your video clips. Keep them simple. We can edit, convert, encode and upload on to a dedicated Youtube.com channel and Facebook. Just send your raw footage.
It’s a simple thing to do. Anyone can get involved. But it is a powerful way to send a message to those responsible for this travesty.
Then we would ask you to share, tweet, and blog your hearts out.
Send your video clip to [email protected] together with any ideas that you think will help.