“No time for experimenting. The sailors need stability.” That’s the message being sent to World Sailing and the IOC from the sailors at the Finn Gold Cup in Porto as they fight tooth and nail to keep tactical racing for 85kg athletes in the Games for Paris 2024. All the fleet have signed an open letter detailing a comprehensive way forward and arguing strongly from several angles of cost, security and plain logic that canning the Finn is shooting the golden goose of Olympic sailing. Judging by the action in Porto this week, World Sailing are either blind or stupid (most likely both) to be so dead-set on the class’s exclusion.
Let’s be clear here. The Finn is Olympic sailing in its purest, most majestic form. It’s the fusion of athleticism, power, fitness, dedication, strength and achievement. A more unalloyed expression of the Olympic ideal is hard to find and the history of the class should not be forgotten. Throw in the names of Elvstrom, Coutts, Ainslie, Bertrand (and countless others) and you can’t deny that the single greatest sailors ever to walk the planet, cut their teeth in the Finn. Why are World Sailing, most pertinently, and the Olympic movement, more relevantly, choosing to blind-eye this pedigree? The pursuit of a strategy in the Olympics towards sub-youth culture is a dangerous trend prone to flip-flop and change on a whim. Teenage eyeballs are easily distracted and what’s cool today is out of favour tomorrow. The Finn is consistency of excellence as the record books show and the current athletes continue to display.
What the Finn offers is an ideal – an Olympic ideal – where the attainment of a gold medal (or any other medal for that matter) is so hard and so unobtainable that its desire is ingrained in outlandish effort and utter dedication. The fact that Ben Ainslie won so many consecutive medals in the class at a canter belies the difficulty. The simple truth is that Ben was/is the modern-day Elvstrom – at least a generation ahead of his peers, supported by the greatest Olympic winning structure ever created and the utter brilliance of David ‘Sid’ Howlett as coach. Success rankles. Perhaps that era of dominance is something that the IOC sneers at but it’s an absolute aberration that occurs perhaps once in a fifty year cycle. It shouldn’t be seen as the norm.
There’s no getting away that post the Tokyo Games, sailing will be a second-class citizen in the programme on the pathway to oblivion. That means that World Sailing, whose funding is derived in the main from the IOC, is in a parlous place. Yet still they insist on the myriad structure of complex committees and open-ended debates leading to camel-esque decision making under an invisible and directionless leadership. Most sailors have given up on World Sailing and a more dangerous situation could not be envisaged. It’s like a company heading for bankruptcy – think Lehman Brothers of a few years ago – or a plane in a tailspin with the captain still demanding a platter from the first-class lounge. The result is inevitable. Unfortunately the collateral damage along the way is irreversible.
I spent a while this morning watching a brilliant video by the NZL Sailing Team documenting Josh Junior and Andy Maloney’s five year commitment to winning Gold in Tokyo – and not to mention an America’s Cup along the way. JJ was best man at Andy’s wedding and the two are firm mates but absolute competitors on the water. They are pushing each other selflessly in a bid for one of them to win the medal and that’s just remarkable. They train together, they support each other and both know that there’s only one slot at Tokyo. It’s Ainslie & Scott all over again and on the results in Portugal, one of them is going to medal as sure as night follows day.
The IOC should watch that video as it’s everything that the Finn is and more. Putting the class into exile and oblivion on a bonfire of vanity and the pursuit of a vague notion of youth and urbanity is possibly one of the worst decisions made in Olympic history – it’s an Olympic sized mistake.
I’ll leave the last word to the Finn Class and their open letter: “We maintain that this is not the time to make costly changes and experiments. An Olympic campaign is costly and takes a long time, minimum four to eight years. The sailors need predictability in their planning and while sailing is becoming more speed and technologically orientated, we must not forget that sailing is also a tactical and strategic sport. This should be reflected in the choice of Olympic events.“