The latest piece of email marketing from the International Olympic Association was a trip into mediocrity, almost irrelevant to the Games themselves, touting sports and individuals unlikely to ever bother the five ring circus, but it revealed starkly the dedicated path that this weird semi-state body is on.
Presented to the world were two films – one following a pretty average female skateboarder on the streets of New York and another following an even more average skim-boarder. The skim dude, whilst looking cool, was attempting with his friend to find architectural water-displays around his city of the correct depth in order to execute a ‘skim’ across the film before crashing and falling as the edge nipped the board and physics took over.
Neither were any good but that didn’t matter – this was the Olympics capturing youthful zeitgeist. It was wearying to watch. Patronising in the extreme. It wasn’t Citius, Altius Fortius.
The Olympics however, is congratulating itself on the introduction of youth sports into the heavily delayed Tokyo Games and is drunk on a mythical, be-tattooed urban culture. Boxes were ticked, engagement scores went through the roof, youth ruled and sports that were previously the domain of the disaffected went mainstream.
The Olympic platform is formulaic but beautifully televisual and sports now have to capture far more than the human element of endeavour on the pathway to success – they must operate effectively in a doom-scrolling world alongside serving up sporting excellence and back-stories.
Our sport, sailing, is being forced to adapt into these Olympic tramlines and the high-profile, crazy political exit of the Finn is, most likely, the tip of the iceberg. Personally I’m fairly enthused by the IQFOiL windsurfers having seen one up close recently (my goodness the windsurfing discipline was in desperate need of a re-boot) and whilst I think World Sailing and the IOC panicked and backed the wrong horse with the kiteboards over the wingfoils, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt – their recent world championship was entertaining to watch although the athletes do look a bit constipated with that optimum body position as they truck at break-neck speed to windward. Will they attract the doom-scrollers? Who am I to say they won’t.
But the one exclusion that really makes my blood boil is that of the entire Parasailing discipline for not only Tokyo 2020/1 but Paris 2024 too. I’ve opined on it before so I won’t re-cover old ground but it’s the biggest horlicks of the current incumbents of World Sailing, however I’m pleased to see that they are making a pro-active attempt with an early launch to try and force their case onto the roster for Los Angeles 2028. I fear though that it’s going to get crushed on the wheel of youth and urban engagement. It shouldn’t.
Parasailing is a vital, thriving discipline at a local level. It deserves to have Olympic status but re-gaining that status is going to be the mother of all tasks. David Graham is on record saying: “We know that IPC President, Andrew Parsons, has already publicly declared that the IPC will be looking at potential ‘new sports’ following the successful introduction of new, youth-focused sports at Tokyo 2020. We are on track to achieve our strategic priorities by 2023 and we are taking nothing for granted.”
He’s right to take nothing for granted as sailing is an easy target to take a shot at when it comes to committee-based decisions so clever positioning is going to be required to get on the front-foot and build a compelling case.
Proving unequivocally, global participation is paramount and the incontrovertible truth is that at the recent Hansa World Championships, 181 Para sailors representing 23 nations from six continents including Asia and Africa, took part. What better evidence can they provide.
Will parasailing get the nod? Well there are big stipulations that World Sailing has defined in:
- Increasing worldwide participation to 45 nations on 6 continents.
- Increasing youth participation (below the age of 30) to 20% of total athletes.
- Growing the number of female participants to 30% and, ultimately, achieving gender parity.
This should be achievable and as World Sailing recovers from a very near mis-step with the now-rejected proposal to open a satellite office in China, the final period of Quanhai Li’s tenure should be defined by a concerted, all-out effort to get Parasailing back in the Games.
Rather than being a ghost president that passes through the appointment with little to merit his tenure other than financial survival after sailing close to the wind with the delayed Tokyo Games, Li needs to corral every resource to support the disability discipline and utilise every political lever to get it on the roster for Los Angeles 2028.
Failure is not an option. Pack your bags and disappear into obscurity if you do.