No quick fixes

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At the World Sailing Annual Conference in Barcelona, Spain in November, the International Governing Body had a theme running throughout entitled ‘Our Sustainable Future’. The theme was encapsulated by three topics that go hand in hand to form a mission and vision going forward. Sport, technology, nature. But with sustainability set to play an important role in the sport’s future, what does it actually mean? Working within World Sailing I have had the benefit of seeing the vision from the inside, but I also have my thoughts and opinions as a competitive sailor.

Main picture: A good place to start in reviving the greener image that sailing enjoyed before an explosion of resources in the 1990s – thousands of horsepower puff away as weather boats come in after a day’s America’s Cup training in Trapani. By 2016 the Olympic circuit had moved beyond parody: you can walk several hundred yards across parked coach boats at the major regattas. These are Laser support boats (below) at Hyères. But finding the balance between the effort to win versus environment concerns is not an easy task

So what does sustainability mean to me? When I hear the word itself a few things come to mind. Sustaining – while promoting – our sport and keeping it relevant in an ever-changing and evolving sporting landscape. And also preserving our playing field, the water that we sail on. Without it there is no sport.

Throughout my sailing career I felt as though I owed a duty to the water on which I competed. We, as sailors, are guardians of the seas and oceans, but it isn’t just about racing and those taking part. We are part of a unique sport – or more accurately activity – that covers such a wide base, from racing to casual weekend sailing with family. One thing we all have in common is responsibility.

Sustainability needs to be all-encompassing. As a sailor I have had the good fortune to sail in numerous countries and in many different classes, so one thing that immediately comes to mind is coaching…

Coaching touches almost everyone looking to compete and is now an essential part of improving racing skills. I wholeheartedly believe that sustainability is a good thing and something positive to aim for in the sport, but as a sailor this cannot be to the detriment of the sport itself and the development of young sailors, especially from emerging sailing nations.

With this in mind I feel that we need to strike a balance around the number of coach boats out on the water during our regattas. We need to help emerging nations to get coaches out on the water and we need to strike a balance with the established nations being overly excessive in their coach boat numbers.

article4pic2Something else to think about is what the coaches carry on their boats. Plastic drinking bottles? Wrapped food? How do we dispose of the little things we take for granted in order to reduce our footprint? It may sound like a very small detail but it is something we all need to think about. From small changes come the big differences.

These are changes that World Sailing can achieve with the help of our sailing countries around the world, but as organisers of many events ourselves we also need to look at what we can do directly to address environmental considerations. In the short term there are those simple things, like recycling waste and making our events paperless; the big picture solutions will take more thought and debate.

I am lucky enough to be involved in the organisation and be part of the new vision. From the inside we have an important job to do to showcase our leadership for change. World Sailing must, and will, act on fact-based evidence in our effort to support sustainability. But we have to target realistic outcomes and be transparent in our reporting to ensure we are the catalyst for change we aspire to be.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) included sustainability in their Agenda 2020 which guides the future of the whole Olympic movement – World Sailing aims not only to comply but to go above and beyond what is necessary for a worldwide governing body.

Sustainability will always mean different things to different people, who will look at it from many different perspectives, but World Sailing aims to address all those perspectives and be in a position to focus efforts effectively as a leader for change.

One thing is for sure, though: there will be no immediate shortterm fixes, this is a longterm project that World Sailing will fully invest in to sustain our sport and the environment.
Malcolm Page, World Sailing, 470 gold medallist Beijing 2008 and London 2012

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