Kim Andersen: preparing for change

World Sailing will have its 2019 Mid-Year Meeting on May 16-19 in London, England. This is one of two events during the year wherein the public can witness the processes of the organisation. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with World Sailing President, Kim Andersen, for an update.

World Sailing is responsible for the sport, which includes its involvement with the Olympic Games, and that role takes a lot of effort. Is there a concern within the organisation that this role takes away from the rest of the sport?

It is the major concern, and this is also why it’s one of the things in my manifest for being elected as the president. I was saying I was going to change that going forward by introducing a governance commission to evaluate how we can make a better working governance structure, and part of that was to take care of that issue that you mentioned.

At the moment, the Council is super engaged in the Olympics, but not always for the benefit of the sport but for the interest in classes, and that is why the new governance commission is proposing an Olympic Council which would be a separate decision making body comprised with specialists.

This would be part of an overhaul that creates a number of commissions to work with all the other issues: youth development, how do we improve engagement, how do we develop classes better, how do we do our regulation of sailing rules much easier, and so on. That we can have action on a rolling basis, and then at the Annual General Meeting once a year we can focus on all the issues.

So the idea is not to have the current structure where essentially once a year there are ideas submitted, and then within three months they all have to be voted for or against. Instead these ideas can be assessed more thoroughly throughout the year, and if they need approval, we can do it more swiftly at the AGM.

But back to your question, definitely sailing is much, much more than the Olympics. Having said that, the Olympics are important, but they should be treated with equal importance with other aspects of the sport, and that’s why the governance commission is proposing this Olympic Council.

The equipment for Sailing at the Olympics has had many changes through the history of the Games, and there is change again proposed for Paris 2024. This latest change is based on preferences by the International Olympic Committee, but do we really know what the IOC wants. It does seem like there is some guesswork… is that a fair way to frame it?

I think that’s the way that many people are seeing it, but that’s not the way that I see it and I don’t think that’s actually the way that the IOC is trying to do it. But before I answer, I start the other way around. What the IOC wants us to do, as an Olympic sport, is to make sure we are developing our sport in the best possible way. So what is the best possible way?

Part of the equation is the issue of age. We have a lot of older participants, but we are missing younger age segments, so we should use the Olympic platform to address that. Another issue is gender equality. When I was elected as president, I said that the most important part of the challenge that we are having in sailing is if we don’t change this imbalance, we will lose relevance as a sport.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid that sailing will disappear. That’s not what I’m saying, but I’m definitely sure we will lose our relevance as a major sport and maybe, in time, lose our relevance in the Olympics because, let’s face it, if you’re not a balanced sport then you’re not that interesting. But for attracting youth and women, it is hard if you’re not balanced so this is super important.

What’s interesting is how the concept of mixed events has evolved. When I asked the IOC after the Sydney 2000 Olympics if it was possible to introduce mixed sailing, they actually said no. They didn’t like mixed sailing. They didn’t like mixed badminton. They didn’t like a lot of things because they were not sure that was the way of presenting the absolute top of sport.

But now they have changed. So in their Olympic Agenda 2020, in which the IOC made detailed recommendations for the future of the Olympic movement, they actually promote it, and I think it fits perfectly to what sailing should be developing.

That’s why I’m very much in favour of the slate of events we have now selected for Paris 2024, not just because it’s selected, but it shows the diversity of the sport which we haven’t been seeing before. All the disciplines which are in the 10 events, they are showing, and can show, a much greater universality than we have seen before in many of the events.

With all that said, I don’t think the IOC should dictate to us what to do and I don’t get that feeling from IOC that they want that either.

In the context of other sports, the Sailing events at the 2016 Olympics looked similar. Sailors can appreciate the differences in the boats, but for an outsider, they see 10 events where athletes are jumping off the same 10-meter board but wearing different bathing suits. So I understand the desire to present events with greater differences in hopes it will be more interesting to the outsider, but in the end will it move the needle?

But what is the alternative? That Sailing at the Olympics not reflect the full range of our sport? While it would be difficult for it to do so, because our sport is so diverse in its boats and formats, what we currently have are events that focus on a very small part of our sport that’s linked to dinghy sailing, and as a result they all look the same.

So I ask, are we then servicing our sport in the right way in order for the Olympic Games to create the revenue of $15 million US to World Sailing? I don’t know, but I see we have much bigger opportunities by what we are doing now, by presenting a more diverse program, without these decisions adversely affecting the sport.

So onward we go. World Sailing’s Mid-Year Meeting has some decisions to make for Paris 2024. What can we anticipate?

First of all, with the Regulation 23 process, which is to select the type of events and then select the equipment for the event. That’s one process that has been running, which I took over when I became president, and where the implementation was something like nearly a year late, meaning, according to regulation, we had to do it and we also had to speed up the process.

That’s one layer of the process, and then another layer is the anti-monopoly EU coming in from the side, so we had to check where are we concerning that. And finally we have the FRANDly, as I call this, as the third layer of the process.

In the first layer, being the regulations, there we chose the events and then we choose the equipment. In that process, we then decided that the equipment for the Men’s and Women’s One Person Dinghy Event and for the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfer Events, should be trialed because of the EU legislation. So this was why these two classes were picked out for a trial.

So now coming to the Mid-Year Meeting, there has been a trial in which the Laser was evaluated alongside three other qualified entries, and there will be a recommendation from the Equipment Committee based on that trial, recommending to the Council that the Laser and RS Aero are suitable equipment. After all the testing, evaluating, and recommending, at the end of all this, it’s up to Council to make that decision.

For the windsurfing, we didn’t have any trials because when saying what would we like for this event, the specification for that equipment for that event, the result was very, very close to the what we already have, which is the RS:X, so that is the recommendation, which is to retain the current equipment.

And then we have the kite event, and it has been proposed to use what they call registered equipment in which two or three years before the Olympics, they provide the equipment manufacturers a quality standard which can be used in the Olympics.

This is how kite course racing is now being done, and this flexibility before Paris will allow for the evolution of the equipment to continue, but also only to a certain extent. At some point it needs to freeze so everybody going to the Olympics will have the same possibilities. I think this system will be the recommendation from the Equipment Committee.

Then we have the last one, the offshore event. It has taken some time, but people are slowly beginning to understand that this event is not about equipment. It is actually about being a good mixed team on a double-handed boat. The equipment is secondary, which is just what is available around the world. Similar to how most match race events are run.

Right now, there is a working group that is identifying suitable equipment for fitting the standards of safety, but also being suitable for that kind of double-handed racing, which is available around the world. Let’s say maybe there are 20 or so options on that list. That list will be shown at the Mid-Year Meeting, and then until the Annual Meeting in November, we will gain feedback on any similar type boats that we didn’t know of. It is all about utilising the best options available in different regions for qualifying events

So we sail in the boats available, and then at the end of 2023, World Sailing is going to be selecting a boat for the 12 or 15 participants at the 2024 Olympics and that is going to be a boat delivered to the Games from that list. This information is all part of the online submission.

At the 2018 Annual Meeting, it was an important aspect of the presentation, in that the offshore event would not have an emphasis on equipment. Securing equipment was viewed as a massive expense, so what I am hearing is how this remains an important part of the planning for this event. Is this correct?

It’s 100% correct. The availability of suitable equipment around the world is very, very important to keep the offshore event as open as possible and as accessible as possible. That is how offshore keelboat racing is, and that is how this mixed event is also going to be.

However, there is always an arms race in the Olympics. It is unavoidable as some nations will always spend a lot of money for an Olympic medal. But we can limit that arms race by when we select the boat, so perhaps for eight to nine months maximum. Basically, the idea and the structure is to be as inclusive in the qualifying by utilising equipment already there.

Is it an objective of the Mid-Year Meeting, aside from the offshore event, to select the equipment that will be used in Paris?

From the May meeting, we should know the double-handed mixed, where the 470 is in. We should know the windsurfing, the RS:X. We should know the one-person dinghy coming out of the trials, and we should know the kites. And for all of these boats, they will be subject to, if elected, to be able to FRAND compliant.

FRAND? What is that?

FRAND is an acronym for ‘Fair, Reasonable, and Non Discriminatory’. These are the licensing terms that pertain to the manufacturing of the equipment. Take the Laser, for example, which has had limitations on who can build and where they can sell. However, if you wanted to build Lasers, a FRAND policy would provide a system where you could actually apply to do so. For the Olympic equipment, this is now important.

The Laser was introduced as equipment in the Olympics for the 1996 Games. Why do we care about FRAND now?

We care about FRAND now because I think everything is becoming more and more commercial. There’s more money into our sport, and I think that is pushing that part. When you look at all the listed equipment in the Olympics today, and you’re looking at the monopolies, as people call them, and the open classes, we don’t have more builders participating in the Olympics from the open classes. There’s the monopolies.

With the 470 Class, it’s Mackay who’s by far the dominating supplier and Bootswerft Ziegelmayer being number two, and then you had one boat in Rio from a third supplier. If you are looking at the Finn, which is totally open in this class, among the 23 boats in Rio, nearly everyone had new Devotis. So that is as close as you can come to a monopoly in an open class.

If you are then looking at the 49er, where you have a monopoly with several selected builders, then it’s evenly spread. Of course, with the Nacra 17 or RS:X, there’s only one manufacturer, but what I am trying to say is that the level of competing, producing good equipment for the Olympics, it is always just a few that can do it.

What I would like to see is the use of FRAND and to have the tolerances on everything we do much, much tighter. By tightening the tolerances, more manufactures can build the boats, they can focus on building quality boats, and they can focus more on servicing the sailor. This would all do more to benefit the sport.

Was the issue of FRAND also brought forward due to litigation against World Sailing?

We had an allegation from Luca Devoti and several other sailing equipment suppliers, where they got together and launched an EU anti-monopoly case against World Sailing. Their position was for a review all the Olympic equipment as it cannot be fair that the opportunity to manufacture some equipment is not available. This preceded my presidency, and I pushed to deal with the issue to find out what’s going on.

So we sought out legal advice and the legal advice told us that World Sailing was creating, or putting itself into, a possible anti-monopoly case, which is when we are choosing equipment for a discipline. For example, it is when we are putting a Laser into the one-person discipline, as it gives the Laser an advantage compared to other similar one design boats, if we are not reviewing the equipment choice on a regular basis.

So for instance, by having the Finn in the Olympics for 17 Games without ever addressing if another boat should fit in, that was, in the lawyer’s view, the biggest breach we could make according to if there was a case with the EU.

So nobody knows, but they say if there was a case with the EU, it wouldn’t look right that you are not allowing other classes to get into an Olympic discipline that they can facilitate. That’s where you have breached. So when we looked at our processes, the problem was not with how we were selecting the equipment, but rather our process did not include an interval of planned review.

So in 2017 we decided that every eight years we will have an evaluation of equipment in order to make sure that we are opening up to a fair review of alternative equipment to avoid any issues with an EU anti-monopoly case.

But Luca and others didn’t like that answer because that was not dealing with what they would like to do, which was to supply the equipment. And there are a lot of MNAs (member nations) that came forward because they did not have suppliers in their country and their customs restrictions were so costly. This is why we saw FRAND as a solution. That is how it is.

Luca still launched his claim with the European Commission and they have not decided its veracity. It is with the commission now, and they ask sometimes for information, but it’s not really a major issue right now.

This is Part 1 of the interview. Click here for Part 2. 

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