Looking back before moving forward

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Keep looking forwards,
says RICHARD ASPLAND


Following the disappointing announcement that sailing will not feature in the Paralympic programme at Tokyo 2020, World Sailing and the Para World Sailing Committee have been working tirelessly to reinstate the sport for the Paralympic Games of 2024.

Since disabled sailing has fallen under the remit of the International Federation (IF) positive steps have been taken to move the discipline forward. Meetings between the IF and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) have taken place and continue with the intent of addressing all of the recommendations from the IPC.

New equipment and racing formats are being looked at in a bid to increase worldwide participation at the grass-roots level as well as on the elite level, changes which also make the discipline more media and spectator friendly to increase exposure for the sport.

World Sailing has recently announced the appointment of Massimo Dighe as the Para World Sailing Manager. As well as the skills needed to perform the role, Dighe has the added advantage of being a former Paralympian and has been instrumental in the latest equipment evaluations.

While the work continues to reinstate sailing into the 2024 Paralympics, looking ahead there is still the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in which sailing has the opportunity to showcase itself to the world. But what can we expect from this September’s spectacular?

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will demonstrate wonderful feats of human endeavour, and in sailing during the Paralympic Regatta you will see that endeavour go up against and with nature.

Try to imagine New Zealand’s 49er team of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke pulling in the spinnaker sheet with their teeth. Can’t imagine it? Just tune in to the Paralympics to see it happen. Want to see someone steer a boat by blowing into a tube? Then tune in to the Paralympics to see that too.

The Para World Sailing Championships recently concluded in Medemblik in the Netherlands, a truly fantastic advertisement for what is to come in the first South American Paralympic Games.

The Para Worlds showed that Paralympic sailing has excitement. The very last race of the regatta, race 10 in the Sonar fleet, had people ashore watching the live tracking, exhaling and debating who was going to win gold. The Sonar teams from the USA, Australia and Great Britain fought it out to the very last metre with all three medals changing hands at least a dozen times through the race. In the end USA’s Alphonsus Doerr, Bradley Kendell and Hugh Freund took it by a single point from silver and two points from bronze.

Germany’s Heiko Kroeger won his eighth world title in the 2.4 Norlin One Design. But that does not tell the whole story. Yes, winning eight worlds is impressive, but what’s more impressive is the longevity and high competitive standards he has had to maintain to win those eight titles battling out against a succession of other world champions, Paralympic gold medallists and Sailing World Cup winners. There is a lot of depth and pedigree in this class.

In the SKUD18 Poland’s Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki became the first world champions since 2008 not to come from either Great Britain or Australia. Maybe a surprise is in store in Rio now that the two previous dominant nations know they can be beaten… and that everyone else also knows they can be beaten.

Just like the Olympics, the Paralympics will be centre stage at Rio with a spectacular backdrop and will be a superb opportunity to showcase the sport to the world. But one major thing the Paralympics will benefit from, the Olympics itself.

Sailing at the Olympics will be seen by millions of people around the globe. Sailing uses nature like no other sport in the programme. Add in to that the sheer range of disabilities that the sport of sailing can accommodate – and at a high level.

The Olympics is a great warm-up for the Paralympics. When people see the success of Olympic sailing in Rio they will want to come back for more, and they won’t have to wait long as the Paralympics starts a few short weeks later.

The Paralympics is a showcase of what is physically possible. Add in a beautiful backdrop, some amazing people doing some amazing things in a boat and you’ve really got something special.

Richard Aspland, World Sailing

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