Sailing: Wind of change blowing up

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The Independent Online
TAKING not just a leaf but the whole book from the world of Formula One motor racing, controversial moves are being plotted by sailing's governing body, the International Sailing Federation, to change the way the sport's top events may be run in future.

Long-term plans include partnerships in the running of events such as the America's Cup, the Volvo (ex-Whitbread) round-the-world race, the Admiral's Cup, the world match racing conference, and a world championship of sailing in the mid-Olympic cycle.

According to Tom Ehman, an ally of the ISAF president, Paul Henderson, and a member of a Presidents' Advisory Group, the sport needs a strong international federation to organise events and oversee commercial activities. "I have to say this is completely different from what I was espousing 10 years ago, when I favoured laissez-faire and not trying to control the sailors," Ehman said.

The changes would be steered by Henderson, a U-turn to centralisation greater even than that envisaged by those he opposed when elected four years ago. Henderson ran in 1994 on a decentralisation ticket, insisting that the sailors and their national governing bodies should be left to run their own affairs. The ISAF was there, he said, just to serve the sailors.

Ehman is now a director of the West-McLaren Formula One team and his allies include Marco Piccinini - formerly of Ferrari and a lawyer to Bernie Ecclestone, as well as being manager of the Italian Prada America's Cup syndicate - and Jay Cross, president of the Miami Heat basketball team. Their view of how events should be treated as brands for commercial exploitation is behind the new line.

They are likely to meet opposition, however. Robin Aisher, the British vice-president of the ISAF, said: "I think the council [of the ISAF] as now constituted would oppose such moves."

Dyer Jones, the president of the America's Cup Challenger's Association, said: "They think they can make a lot of money out of it. Quite frankly, I have got other news for them." Any surplus should be ploughed back into the event, he added, not into the ISAF coffers. He also warned of action in the New York Supreme Court if there was an attempt to override the provisions of the Deed of Gift, which governs the America's Cup.

Ehman, however, was adamant that significant change is inevitable. "It is not a question of whether. It will happen," he said. "The events which don't go along with it will wither and die. They won't get sponsorship, they won't get television."