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Olympic Windsurfing: Not Dead Yet?

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Don’t write off Olympic windsurfing just yet. A firestorm of opposition to the International Sailing Federation’s decision to dump the event in favor of kiteboarding at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro makes it highly likely that there will be another vote at ISAF’s next meeting in November.  

Procedural details remained murky at press time. But US Windsurfing president Karen Marriott says she’ll press US Sailing’s delegates to vote to overturn ISAF’s original decision—which would require a 75 percent majority vote. 

 According to Marriott, “There is a strong international effort to keep windsurfing in the Olympics, so at this point I’d say the decision is far from final.” 

Since the ISAF council voted 19-17 in favor of the change last May, more than 26,000 people have signed an online petition opposing it, and Spain’s ISAF delegate has said he accidently voted against—instead of for—windsurfing as he’d intended. It’s an odd battle, for there is substantial crossover between the two sports, with many sailors, like Farrah Hall, who represented the United States in the RS:X windsurfing class at the 2012 Olympic regatta, doing both. 

“Most Olympic windsurfers, including me, would like to welcome kites into the Olympics, but not at the expense of our own sport,” Hall says. A much better approach, she says, would be to “introduce kiting before the 2016 [quadrennial], allow it to become organized globally and add it to the 2020 roster of Olympic events.”

Meanwhile, US Sailing is standing firm. Olympic Sailing Committee chairman Dean Brenner (a former Soling sailor who saw his own class lose its Olympic status in 2000) says kiteboarding deserves a shot at the Olympics because it is an “exciting and rapidly growing” type of sailing that has the potential to bring a number of new countries to the sport of Olympic sailing. 

“The decisions on Olympic events and equipment are never easy,” Brenner said. “But I stand behind ISAF’s decision 100 percent. Kiteboarding will be good for the sport of sailing, in the USA and worldwide.”

Photo courtesy of Perth 2011/Ocean Images

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