Branson leads the kitesurfers' revolt as Olympic chiefs reverse course to leave sport out of Rio

Sailing's governing body reverses decision to replace windsurfing after international outcry

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The Independent Sport

Olympic windsurfers who have spent six months retraining as kitesurfers for the 2016 Olympics must abandon their progress after the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) voted to reverse its decision to swap sails for kites.

The ISAF decided to retain men's and women's windsurfing at the governing body's annual general meeting in Dublin, reversing the organisation's previous move to drop the discipline in favour of kitesurfing for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in four years.

Sir Richard Branson, who propelled himself on to the surfing scene after becoming the oldest man to kitesurf across the English Channel, said it was a "sad day for one of the best entertainment sports in the world".

"It is a huge disappointment for all kitesurfers worldwide who have been training hard since it was announced it was going to be in the Rio Olympics," he said. "What a shame, too, for all the windsurfers who spent the last year training to become kitesurfers."

In May, the ISAF described the new sport as a "fantastic addition" to the Olympic schedule, but has since faced pressure from windsurfing federations that vowed to have sailing chiefs reinstate the discipline.

A representative of the British Kitesurfing Association (BKSA) said: "Obviously we're disappointed but we understand there was a lot of pressure from the windsurfing community, especially within those nations that previously voted in favour of the switch."

However, delegates of the ISAF's member states later blamed the move on confusion due to language difficulties rather than a considered change of heart.

Israel's sailing chief, Yehuda Mayan, revealed that, in voting for kiteboarding, delegates had probably been confused by ambiguous language translations. And the Spanish Sailing Federation has since acknowledged that its representative voted for kiteboarding by mistake.

The ISAF ultimately reported that with 38 votes available, the 75 per cent requirement was not achieved on either of the proposals to ratify the decision to introduce kitesurfing.

"It seems a shame given so many windsurfers had invested the time into making the transition to kitesurfing," the BKSA representative said.

"To be honest, it was strange to make the decision to take windsurfing out in the first place. They are both forms of sailing that are far more accessible than others. They are both more appealing to young people.

"We believe it was the right decision to put kitesurfing into the Games, and perhaps this will make windsurfing reassess its position."

The Royal Yachting Association was among those campaigning for the reinstatement of windsurfing and its performance director, John Derbyshire, said: "We have a very strong youth pathway and some 10,000 windsurfing members, so on their behalf we are delighted with the decision. We obviously have great compassion towards the kitesurfing community, with whom we have been working very closely."