Windsurf-kiteboard row overshadows Skandia Sail opening


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Any lack of wind and racing on the opening of the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta, the last chance to tune up before the Olympic rings move in next month, was more than made up by the rumour mill about machinations within the International Sailing Federation to overturn a decision made last month to throw out the windsurfers and replace them with kiteboards in Brazil in 2016.

The decision came as a shock to the windsurfers, to the watching sail racing community, and even to some of those who voted 19-17 to make the switch. Now there is a move to raise the matter at ISAF’s annual general meeting in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, in November, where support by 75 per cent. of the council is needed for a formal review.

None of the leading presidential candidates, who would be left to implement the decision on the departure of outgoing president Göran Petersson, has publicly backed the decision to change. It is believed that considerable progress has already been made in mustering the 75 per cent.

With all the members of the British Olympic sailing team already selected, there is little to lose in the Sail for Gold regatta starting at the Games venue off the Portland end of Weymouth, though bruised pride could be painful if any of them are beaten by their British rivals.

That includes Ben Ainslie, with so much expectation of a fourth consecutive gold medal riding on him, especially after so recently winning the world championship in the Finn singlehander in Falmouth. There is no point in asking Ainslie if he wants to win or if the regatta is important. Ainslie wants to win everything; probably Sir Ben long before then, he will be giving advice to the hearse driver on how to beat everyone else to his own funeral.

The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy is already a much-used facility and, if anything, hoards of sailors descending from all parts of the globe are little more than a nuisance to those regular users of a venue.

Hundreds of school-aged children passing through every week to learn sailing, kayaking, dragon boat racing, and raft-building will lose the facility for the whole of their school holidays to make way for the Olympics and Paralympics. All their kit and containers will have to be removed off site.

As Olympic dress rehearsals go, Sail for Gold it is not very Olympic. Competitors can be sponsored by whomever they like. The boat park is shared amicably by all, and there is no need for heavy handed security or intrusive exclusion zones. The 1061 athletes from 62 countries, it seems, are happy to take part in a sports event without the protection of ground to air missiles.

Come the Games and the security presence will be overpowering and the security budget eye-watering, and that for just 380 competitors.

The long arm of the IOC was not missed on Monday. What was missing, even when a second waive went out late afternoon, was a decent racing breeze.