One of the worst aspects of working within a failing company, teetering on the edge of liquidation, is the loss of morale. It seeps into every corner of an organisation – the receptionists aren’t so much fun anymore, accounts are morose, marketing are all looking for other jobs, the rainmakers are as arid as a Sahara summer, the operations team are twiddling their thumbs and IT are more frustrating and weird than ever.
‘Upstairs’ the decision making becomes absent as the finger-pointing and absolving of blame tactics come screaming to the fore. An embattled CEO of a second degree usually calls for endless committee meetings to ensure collective responsibility and a paper trail whilst bringing in unemployed, and unemployable, friends and ex-colleagues resurrecting the twilight of their career as ‘Consultants’ who can’t quite believe their luck. It’s a well-trodden corporate path.
On Friday, I wasted hours of my time on planet earth listening into the World Sailing mid-year Council Meeting and what struck me was the huge sense of disillusion amongst the delegates. Perhaps it was Zoom-fatigue? Perhaps it was something more? But over the course of many hours there was very little passion for our tremendous sport. Decisions meandered to conclusion. Poor speakers hogged their moment whilst others made abrupt procedural and clarification interjections that stalled progress meaninglessly. Vision and clarity were sorely absent in this formulaic void replaced by a foreboding pervasion of helplessness and a sense there was little anyone could do. They slept-walked through an agenda largely on-script, read out by second-raters of the secondary school vernacular and adjudicated by form-fillers ticking boxes of how they believe it should be done. It shouldn’t.
My hope was, that at any moment, someone with clout would step forward with humour grace and passion to point out the folly in progress and turn the whole meeting upside down. It was not to be. Instead, it was a humourless affair conducted in faux-professionalism with seething tensions from individuals hard to disguise. These were ghosts passing aimlessly through a haunted house, scared to death of each other but unsure how to frighten – their mojos had been lost. Deckchairs and the Titanic came to mind. The parlous state of World Sailing’s finances should have been a wake-up call but again, no-one dared say boo for fear of upsetting the golden goose – it was all someone else’s problem.
And this is the very inherent issue with myriad committee structured organisations. The risk and the blame are spread so thinly that liferafts are all around. If the vessel were to sink, exits would be swift and individuals would be even quicker to amend their LinkedIn profiles and CVs in order to erase history. World Sailing would perhaps be an interesting and amusing anecdote in the next job interview, passed off with a shuffle in the hotseat, a knowing tone and an allusion in a line that: “We all saw it coming. We all knew. We all did our best.”
What a sad state of affairs. And worse still, the virtually certain outcome for the 10th medal at Paris 2024 is a disaster for sailing. It will be nine medals by 2028 after the post Olympic review, athlete numbers will be decimated again and the runway for sailing’s elimination from the Games – and the destruction of World Sailing – is set. Why bother joining these committees if you aren’t going to make a difference? Why stand by, ghosting through a turgid procedure, and just let others make decisions that you all know are wrong? What changed so dramatically from the moment you threw your hat into the ring to climb the greasy pole of sailing politics, full of ambition to contribute to the sport that you love, that made you a supine passenger in a car crash? It really does beggar belief. Don’t do the job if you can’t – although I guess that doesn’t stop many a politician. An omelette isn’t created without cracking some eggs but sadly procedure and theory won over decency, common sense and backbone.
The Finn is out. Rest in peace after exiting with a whimper. Offshore Double Handed looks dead in the water as an after-thought to be shot at. The 470 meanwhile, got mugged down a back-alley by the hoodie-wearing teenagers of the kiting fraternity armed with foils. And everyone stood by and went: “what happened?” whilst hamstrung by the process and the format. It’s a poor outcome for sailing but it’s the financial lifeline decision for World Sailing as an organisation. I shouldn’t have expected more. If they went back to the IOC with the Finn they would be laughed out of the room and that’s the reality.
World Sailing only exists after a Covid lifeline of funding was thrown by the IOC and now they are desperate for Tokyo to go ahead and for the IOC to confirm that funding will continue. That confirmation has not been received yet and with Japan desperate for a face-saving way out of this summer’s Games via the IOC taking that decision for them – and all the financial implications that will trigger – World Sailing simply couldn’t be in a worse place.
If Tokyo is cancelled, as the majority of the world expects and the majority of Japanese are willing (remember only 3% of the population is vaccinated and Tokyo and its prefectures are on a strict lockdown right now), then the dying embers of World Sailing will be extinguished quickly. Those presiding over the situation will quickly exit stage left. What an embarrassment for those individuals. What an utter embarrassment.
The quicker we can move on, the better. The quicker we can get talented sailors and a new generation into positions of power with a figurehead leader that takes responsibility and sets out a clear vision and to hell with the politics and the egg-shell creeping, the faster the sport can move on and serve its constituents – Olympics or not.
World Sailing just voted itself into irrelevance. This slow motion car crash is painful to witness. Don’t watch. Don’t waste your time on it. The result is inevitable and our sport is the loser.