Tomorrow, World Sailing’s 3-day 2019 Mid-Year Meeting will start 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.
In Part 1, Kim discussed many of the changes within World Sailing and the decisions being made for the Olympics events. Here, in Part 2, the conversation drifts toward the broadcast of the Olympic events.
The trend for Olympic equipment has been toward modern high performance, but boats like the skiffs and multihull aren’t too seaworthy in the upper wind range. Looking forward, should it be a priority that the Olympic equipment is suitable for all conditions?
For sure, we need to keep that in mind. I think also, for sure, that with the diversity of our sport, and having 10 medals, that should also be on top of the mind when we are sort of looking over the specs. Safe events and equipment are important, but having said that, you can adapt the venues to counter any equipment issues. That’s what happened at the Rio Olympics with the ocean and bay courses.
But for Rio, there was only one race area for broadcast, and it was inside the bay with safe conditions. The excitement of the big wind and waves on the ocean was lost.
The issue in Rio was how we are going to televise, and I can only say that the way we are doing it now gives us a great more deal flexibility. People will say that sailing isn’t a media sport, and I agree. I don’t think you’re ever going to transport the feeling of sailing a dinghy boat to the audience. But I think we can get close, maybe deliver 80% of that feeling, of that understanding of what sailing is.
With the graphics available and a lot of new media, we can actually do this, so that is our goal. How we are now using our media in the World Cup events sets the way for how we are going to use it at the Olympics.
We have greatly improved the synergy with World Sailing, the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) which are the broadcast company for all Olympic events, and Swiss Timing which does the timekeeping and scoring for all Olympic events. Getting these two companies to use our systems is a big step forward.
What we have missed for years is how sailing is to be televised, and this has hurt our efforts to attract an audience. And as you said in Rio, we definitely missed broadcasting those exciting races on the ocean course, with boats flying around and capsizing. So the broadcast must be able to embrace all the elements, and be able to operate within them.
A side note for Rio was how, because of the limitations on the broadcast course, and how the very windy days meant we had to shuffle some of the events to different courses, there was an imbalance of television time across the ten events. While that was not great, it also impacted how the IOC viewed the importance of certain events.
Because of this imbalance, the method of the IOC to track viewers per class was not fair. They were trying to pass judgment on classes by using the media data and I said they can’t do that if they’re not able to cover all the race areas. For Rio, the Finn had bad numbers because they were out in the ocean more and not covered by the media. This problem was exasperated when World Sailing made public the media data without explaining how the collection of data was not fair and equal.
OBS was established by the IOC to serve as the Host Broadcaster for the Olympic Games, and you had previously said how, in the past, there had not been enough coordination between World Sailing and OBS to insure that sailing was presented properly. So this progress is good.
Yes, I think what we are doing now is very much different from what we have done before and it’s definitely in line with what we can expect at the Olympics. We are already now sitting together with the OBS to discuss how we cover the offshore event for Paris 2024. So that discussion we are taking up front this time, and doing so very early to sort out the details.
It is so important that we keep making progress in how our sport is presented. So much has been learned in this area from the America’s Cup and we need to take advantage of that. When the graphics are on the screen, so much of our sport that is hard to follow, even for experience racers, becomes much more clear and engaging. The better we can connect the viewer to the action on the water, whether it’s with sailors, umpires, or race committee, the better will be the viewing experience.
But having set how to portray our sport, I still think that what I’m missing is that the judgement of the role – that we are doing it the same as with the America’s Cup, that the lay people, they quickly learn the rules about boundaries. They also quickly learn the rules about three boats’ lengths from the mark and port and starboard. So I think we can make – we have so many possibilities of doing our sport much more presentable than it used to be, and I think that part of having, basically, the racing rule book as part of our racing.
Our sport will always be a challenge to present on broadcast, and a challenge for non-sailors to grasp, but we must take some responsibility for this. So World Sailing has been working hard to improve how it is done, using the tools to connect the viewer to the playing field, which is what other sports do and so must sailing. It is not an inexpensive proposition, but hopefully we can close enough to enhance the experience.
This is Part 2 of the interview. For Part 1, click here. Part 3 will be the conclusion.