Which Olympic delay is best for Sailing?

Posted by Drew Malcolm on

In a statement yesterday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) outlined four broad options for how they will treat the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Thankfully for all athletes and fans of sport, cancellation is not an option. The four options currently on the table are:

  • Running a skeleton version of the currently planned 2020 games,
  • A 30-45 day delay to run the games in late August or September 2020,
  • A delay until 2021,
  • A delay until 2022.

We ask the question, which of these options is best for sailing and sailors?

The worst option, pretty clearly is to hold a skeleton version of the games on time in July/August 2020. Not only will a skeleton version of the games short change the sailors of their experience, but we have already seen a huge delay in training and competition time in the vital months leading up to the games. The final Olympic qualification places are yet to be confirmed due to to cancelled events and some nations are still mid-selection for their athletes.

Additionally, can you imagine the international backlash if Tokyo 2020 were to go ahead as scheduled? There would be non-stop discussion about how the Olympics is out of touch with reality while causing danger to athletes, support staff, and the public. While these giant shadows now seem to be a normal part of the Games cycles, and typically once the Games begin they are forgotten, but the Covid-19 virus sees the world thrown in to uncharted territory.

Let’s not run a lesser Olympics just to be on time.

Of the three delay options, a clean delay to July/August 2021 seems the simplest. Much of the athletic preparation would remain the same and certainly for the Olympic dedicated sailors little would be effected. For some athletes hoping to retire post games, it would mean an additional year of sailing they might otherwise have avoided, but that’s a double edge sword with some fun upside.

The sailors who are aiming toward participation in the 36th America’s Cup in 2021 could be worst affected, with the America’s Cup putting a huge hole in their Tokyo 2021 training programs. Thankfully the number of athletes competing in both competitions are limited due to there only being four America’s Cup teams

For classes like the 470 and Finn, it breaths a bit more life into their Olympic roles which are set to diminish after Tokyo. Especially for the largest Finn sailors without an Olympic class to shift to after Tokyo, another year for things to develop might be helpful. Finally, the RSX/IQFoil is an interesting topic. With the hearts of the windsurfers turned over to foiling, would the windsurfers try for a quick switch of boards or labor along with another year or RSX?

From the Olympic side, it seems the venues are the toughest aspect of waiting a year. Many of the facilities are built only as temporary elite performance venues with planned transitions to community facilities after the games. A prime example is the athletes village which would need to be left vacant for an extra 12 months to accommodate the athletes. That’s a huge impact on those residents hoping to relocate to the village after the games. 

Probably the biggest impact on delaying a year is the Olympic income and therefore the income to every federation and national team would also be delayed a year. The IOC is pretty bankable, and they should be able to secure bridge funding, but would they trickle that down through the whole sporting apparatus? That’s a lot of money that either needs to be financed or gone without, and none of the five ring circus can run without its primary fuel.

Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) compete during the 2019 Hempel World Cup Series in Enoshima, Japan

The two remaining options are a two year delay until 2022, or a short term delay until September 2020. Both options are problematic in their own ways.

A delay until September 2020 would be a welcome change for the sailors and many other athletes from a competitive point of view. The weather in September is much more suited to sports than in August. It’s windier, cooler, and altogether wonderful in Japan in September. Good bye to ice packs and hello to wonderful sailing. Events like the Marathon and Marathon Swimming could be moved back to Tokyo in assumption of cooler temperatures and the public could walk around without a constant sweat while enjoying the spectacle or sport.


Of course, this option isn’t even close to possible unless the world begins to show it can flatten the curve in the next four weeks that the IOC has given itself to make their final decision. Some countries have shown much more commitment to others toward curtailing the spread of the virus by announcing they will not send athletes to Tokyo 2020 while others remain business as usual. It seems unlikely that the democratic world can tackle this issue in unison to the point where a September games would be realistic, but wouldn’t it be awesome if we did. Not only for the sake of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games but for the sake orfregular life. This should be all of our goal regardless of the games. 

A final point about a September games would be the competition. No, not among Olympians, but for the eyeballs of sports fans. If the games could go forward, so too would the rest of professional sport. European football, American football, baseball, and virtually all professional sport would also kick back into gear. How would the Olympic offering fare when in competition with regular professional sport viewing? The games brings in many more types of viewers than professional sport, but it’s hard to imagine the other offerings not curtailing Olympic viewership.

The final option is a two year delay until 2022. The same arguments for 2021 remain in strengths, but in the downside column are some additional massive hurdles. The Olympics would go head to head with the world cup of football. It’s scheduled for Qatar at the same timeframe and is a massive global focus. The World Cup could be scheduled so that both can exist back to back, but no doubt there would be some distraction. 

For sailing, a 2022 games could be extremely challenging with MNA’s required to manage inflated teams. While they are supporting their Finn sailors, they would also need to be building offshore teams. While they are supporting their male and female 470 teams, they would also need to be developing mixed 470 teams. The windsurfing would be a mess, with the RSX and IQFoil either battling it out for inclusion in 2022, or having two fleets of Olympic board sailors in action. A full sailing team for Tokyo 2020 is 15 people and in 2024 it is 16 people. In the lead up to a 2022 games, an MNA would need to support up to 23 different sailors, assuming no overlap, just to have one team in each event. 

This would also impact all of the lead up to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. How would the 2024 Olympic Qualification set forth by World Sailing look? Surely they can’t start 2024 selection until after the Tokyo 2022 games are complete, as many of the athletes will be looking for back to back qualification and selection. This would also grossly effect national selection processes and for those athletes switching classes or moving from say the RS:X to the IQFoil, would limit their time on the new equipment and potentially lower the quality of the sailing and event.

 On balance, the choices are clear and have different impacts. They are all better than cancellation but they are all different in impact too. A delay until 2021 seems like a solid option, and lets endorse it as the best option. A delay to September 2020 is the second best option but relies on the world getting its act together much more quickly than seems viable, so let’s call that the second best option. A delay until 2022 would be a mess, but at least the games would go on and finally, running a skeleton version of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in its current dates seems like the worst option.


49ER / 49ERFX TOKYO 2020



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