Yachting New Zealand are excited about changes to the sailing programme at the 2024 Paris Olympics but will hold off making any major campaign or strategy decisions until the format and equipment is finalised at November's World Sailing AGM.
The World Sailing council recently voted to introduce three new mixed events: a mixed kite, a mixed two-person dinghy and mixed one-person men’s and one-person women’s dinghy. The men’s and women’s windsurfing event was retained enabling World Sailing to meet in with the IOC’s vision of event and gender equality, and appeal to youth, technology a wider global audience.
These join the men’s single handed dingy (Laser) and women’s single handed dingy (Laser Radial), men’s double handed skiff (49er) and women’s double handed skiff (49erFX) and the mixed two-person multihull (Nacra 17) for the Paris Games.
There are still many unanswered questions regarding format and equipment for the three new events, and these decisions will generate a great deal of discussion heading into November's World Sailing annual conference. The IOC will then make a final decision on the 2024 Olympic programme in December 2020.
“It's exciting for sailing in this country and we see these changes as an opportunity,” Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie said. “But we could spend a lot of time and money anticipating new equipment between now and November only to have the mid-year event decision thrown out at the November meeting.
“We have to make sure we are part of these conversations and maintain and build good relations with the class associations, administrators and athletes."
One thing that is certain is that kiteboarding will be at the 2024 Olympics but, illustrating the state of flux within the sport, no decisions have been made on equipment and format, whether it’s foiling or non-foiling, slalom, aerials or windward-lewards.
Yachting New Zealand’s high performance team have already met with officials from the New Zealand Kite Racing Association and discussions will be ongoing as the picture continues to evolve.
It’s too early to start investing in new equipment and campaigns, particularly as Yachting New Zealand’s high performance funding is focused on the 2020 Olympics and follows the lead of High Performance Sport New Zealand who emphasise investment into the country’s best athletes.
“Our funding lends itself to support medal-capable athletes towards the 2020 Olympics and world championships,” Abercrombie said. “But if we see opportunities develop, we are nimble enough to invest in them quickly. It’s up to sailors in the new events to demonstrate to the Olympic committee and Yachting New Zealand their medal-capability.
“We have to look at opportunities, no doubt, but we don’t have the financial wherewithal to invest in a full kiteboarding programme yet."
Instead, Abercrombie said there’s more value at this stage in Yachting New Zealand appointing a women’s sailing co-ordinator.
The process on finding a suitable candidate has already begun and work will then start on better understanding why women leave the sport, how to retain them and transition them to the Olympic classes, how to develop more female coaches and how to communicate better with everyone from schools, parents and the athletes themselves.
“In terms of the 2024 Olympics, this is the best way we can approach the known challenges, rather than invest in specific equipment,” Abercrombie said. “We will do some research to better understand the situation.”
There’s little clarity so far on the makeup of the mixed one-person dinghy, with many believing the Finn will be used as the men’s single handed class. Similarly, there’s a view the 470 will be used for the mixed two-person dinghy.
New Zealand has a good pedigree in both classes which will also be at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Regardless, it will be important for Yachting New Zealand to have a plan in place for when the changes are confirmed because it’s certain rival countries who often have more resources at their disposal will already be planning ahead.
“We want to stay ahead of the game as much as possible and stay alert to any opportunity that presents itself,” Yachting New Zealand talent development manager Geoff Woolley said. “We know our opposition are probably into it already so we can’t be left behind.
"One thing that is certain is that it's an exciting time for youth in the sport with the different pathways and opportunities arising.”