Cats for the chop?

We speak to the RYA about their two submissions to ISAF calling for the removal of multihulls from the Youth Worlds and possibly the Olympics

Wednesday September 26th 2007, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
Over the last few days cat sailors across the UK have been outraged after the discovery of two recent submissions by the RYA to ISAF for discussion at the November ISAF Annual Conference. The first submission fails to include the Tornado in a list of proposed classes at the 2012 Olympic Games and the second calls for the removal of multihull sailing at the ISAF Youth World Championships. Although the submissions are held on a public web-page and are viewable by all (see the site here) it is felt by many to be proof of an anti-cat sentiment within the RYA as well as an unacceptable lack of discussion between the RYA and cat sailors.

However, before we go into whether or not this indeed spells the end for catamaran sailing in the Olympic Games and in youth sailing it is important to look at the facts.

The submission by the RYA on Olympic classes is available here (submission No 103-07) and is quoted below:

Selection of Events for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition

Regulation 16

A submission from the Royal Yachting Association


The events for the 2012 Olympic Regatta shall be
One person dinghy – Men
One person dinghy – Women
Two person dinghy – Men
Two person dinghy – Women
Two person, high performance dinghy – Men
Two person, high performance dinghy – Women
Windsurfing – Men
Windsurfing – Women

The final two events would be decided by the ISAF Council.

Current Position:

There are currently 11 Olympic events. For the 2012 Olympic Games there can only be 10 Olympic events.


1. The events listed above provide a natural progression for sailors.
2. The high performance dinghies & windsurfing provide exciting high speed racing
that attracts media interest and delivers entertainment for the consumer.
3. Windsurfing & the one person dinghies provide an opportunity to have high
numbers of countries participating and can be sailed in supplied equipment.
4. The two person dinghy classes represent a major percentage of the dinghy
activity taking place throughout the world.
5. The events listed provide equal opportunity for men & women.
6. The symmetry of the events make the sport easier to understand for the public.

So while this document doesn’t specifically recommend the Tornado be removed from the Olympic Games, it makes no suggestion that the Tornado, nor indeed the Men’s and Women’s Keelboat or the Finn should stay in. In effect by not mentioning any of these classes the RYA are choosing not to make a specific comment either way on what many see to be the most likely classes to be removed from Olympic sailing.

Of the four disciplines in the balance, it is thought by some that despite being the most pedestrian classes within the Olympiad, the keelboats' position is relatively safe. With Paralympic sailing using keelboats their removal from the Olympic Games means the facilities that are usually in place specifically for such boats - ie, cranes and pontoons - would only be there for Paralympic sailors. With less money in the Paralympics, it is important that - if sailing is to remain part of the Paralympic competition - this infrastructure comes as a package for the Olympic Games as a whole, therefore not making Paralympic sailing a significantly more expensive sport for Olympic organisers. If this is indeed a more important driver for the successful future of an Olympic class, than say spectator appeal or global take-up, then it appears that with the addition of the Women’s High Performance Dinghy, two of the existing boats are for the chop and it would appear the Tornado and the Finn are most likely to disappear from the 2012 line-up.

With concern mounting and a significant number of our readers contacting us appalled at the lack of support for the Olympic catamaran by the RYA, we contacted John Derbyshire, the RYA’s Director of Racing, to see what he had to say.

“Basically the situation with the Olympic classes is that we have said that we are silent on the position of the women’s keelboat, the men’s keelboat, the Tornado and the Finn,” Derbyshire told thedailysail. “How people can read into that situation that we are dropping the Tornado from the Olympics I do not know.” He adds: “Currently the Olympics support windsurfing, singlehanded dinghy sailing, doublehanded dinghy sailing, high performance dinghy sailing, keelboat sailing and multihull sailing. What we do know is that one of those is going to go. The question is which one.”

Certainly one class will be removed for the 2012 Games, however, the case for keeping the Tornado in is a strong one. Cat sailing is one of the fastest growing areas of our sport - massive attendance at events such as F18 Worlds is testament to this. The Tornado is also the fastest boat at the Olympics and therefore likely to offer the best spectacle thereby complying with ISAF’s demands to make the sailing competition more TV-friendly. The RYA admit that one of the reasons for their lack of support for the Tornado is Skandia Team GBR's inability to medal on two hulls, however this is not for want of trying, Leigh McMillan and Will Howden for example have regularly ranked among the top six in this Olympic cycle and, as one Team GBR sailor who didn't wish to be named told thedailysail, the UK's success in the Olympic catamaran might be transformed if it had the same resource assigned to it as say they have with the Yngling.

To some extent the speed in which this situation has unfolded seems to have put many on the back foot. The RYA have replied to e-mail complaints from sailors with a standard letter explaining that this is a matter of mis-communication and a meeting is to be held between John Derbyshire, Rob White and Brian Phipps to discuss the issues, with a statement from the RYA explaining the facts following in due course. But the cat sailors argue that this is a needless wait - if it is simply a matter of poor communication, why not start communicating with sailors now? "Rod [Carr] has committed me to having a meeting," explained Derbyshire of the delay. "We have said following that meeting we will put out a document with the facts of the case as we see it. I am just trying to honour that."

It is not, however, just the RYA who have been caught out by the speed of events. While writing this piece we contacted a number of Team GBR Tornado sailors many of whom were, understandably, reluctant to make any comments. In a situation where the RYA plays a large part in the funding, income of our Olympic sailors, many feel it would be unwise to comment at this stage before the RYA has officially stated its position in a more open way.

Youth sailing

Were this submission to be alone there would, potentially, be less uproar from the catamaran sailing community, however, we feel it is the combination of this submission and submission No 129-07 (again available here) that has people concerned.

The second RYA submission - regarding youth sailing - is below:

ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships

Regulations 17.4.4 and 17.4.10

A submission from the Royal Yachting Association


17.4.10 The Classes for the ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships are:

Boy’s one person dinghy: Laser or Laser Radial
Girl’s one person dinghy: Laser Radial or Byte
Boy’s two person dinghy: 420 or 29er
Girl’s two person dinghy: 420 or 29er
Boy’s windsurfer: RS:X with 8.5m rig
Girl’s windsurfer: RS:X with 8.5m rig
Open Multihull: Hobie 16 with spinnaker or Sirenna SL 16
Open two person high performance dinghy: 29er

Current Position:

See Above.


To replace the Open Multihull Class with an Open two person high performance
dinghy and to remove the 29er from the list of two person dinghy equipment, with
effect from 2009 Event.

Goals of the Youth World Championships Subcommittee include:
1. To increase the participation of nations to the Event.
2. To encourage the competitors to progress to an even higher level of achievement
in the sport of sailing.
3. To enable MNAs to organise, plan and support youth sailing by giving clear
direction on equipment.
If accepted, a similar change is required in regulation 17.4.4.

This submission clearly has a much more anti-multihull stance. Ominously it is felt that the call for the removal of catamaran sailing from the Youth World Championships only makes sense if the RYA believes the Tornado should be removed from the Olympic Games itself. In all honesty it is difficult to view these two submissions and come to any other conclusion than the RYA are attempting to remove the multihull category from both youth and Olympic sailing, irrespective of whether it is specifically mentioned or not.

The RYA view is relatively clear and to the point about their reasoning for the removal of the catamaran from the youth world championship. Derbyshire comments that what the submission actually does is support the 29er being introduced as a separate class in its own right, when currently it alternates with the 420. With both of the classes having a higher turnout than the catamaran class - either the Hobie 16 or the SL16 - Derbyshire says it is logical to have them both in the event instead, and not the cat. “We are suggesting [ISAF] should run a high performance doublehander. It would appear to us that numerically the case seems clear that we can support a lot more sailors at youth level then - and if that is mirrored around the world, then perhaps ISAF should consider it.”

To some extent the points being made by Derbyshire are understandable. Two of the present events have to be dropped from the Olympics and no matter what, that means at least one class of sailor is going to find themselves out of the Olympic Games. It is also easy to look at the figures and see that the catamarans are less well represented at the Youth World Championships than other classes. So then logically why are so many catamaran sailors so upset? The simple answer to this is not so much what is being done rather the way in which the situation is being handled. There has been no consultation with sailors about this subject, a fact Derbyshire does not deny. “I can see how it looks from the other side,” he admits. “Why did we not have a discussion about classes? Well because we will end up having a discussion and everyone will have a view and they will all be equally valid, but someone has to actually decide.”

Although many cat sailors feel persecuted by the RYA, the system is nonetheless an open one. “This is no different to anything else we do,” Derbyshire continues. “We have got a whole load of submissions going in about racing rule changes, technology submissions, on changes to the special regulations, there are a number of submissions that go in each year - they come from each of the expert committees, up through a reporting committee or racing committee and then go to council. All of these stages are open to be challenged and are posted and available. There is nothing underhand here.”

Another argument the cat sailors are making for their poor attendance is that the catamarans have only been introduced relatively recently at the Youth Worlds - with the Hobie 16 first appearing in 2004 - and haven’t had the opportunity to be taken up. Within the UK specifically it is felt that the RYA has not invested sufficient money into cat racing at a grass roots level. Derbyshire counters: “What we are seeing in the UK is that very clearly parents vote with their wallets. They are very happy to buy singlehanders, they are very happy to buys 29ers, or 420s to go into the youth programme but they are very reluctant to go into multihulls, such as the Hobie.”

Derbyshire also makes the very valid point that a little like the Star, the Tornado being one of the most expensive Olympic classes for hardware, is not a class sailors tend to step into directly from a youth program, with Tom Phipps being as exception. “What we have seen in the last seven to ten years is that our top cat sailors come out of doublehanders not out of cat sailing,” he says “If you look at the age profile of the Olympic Tornado sailors, Mitch Booth, Darren Bundock all those guys, other than Leigh –who is the youngest at about 30 – there is about a ten year gap between the top end of the youth programme and the Olympic programme.”

The low turn-out of youth cat sailors Derbyshire believes is also not ideal for their training. “It is unfair to persuade people into cats when they can only sail three or four boats around the country [at the youth level]. We think they will get far better sailing and be far more involved in our sport if they get good one design sailing in a focussed youth programme.”

No matter how upfront the RYA feels they have been about this situation the sheer number of upset catamaran sailors proves it is not as open as it clearly should be. The fact that two important submissions such as this were not discussed with any sailor has only managed to alienate a whole arm of our sport.

A number of catamaran sailors have started an online petition against these submissions from the RYA which can be viewed here .

Do you think catamarans should stay in the Olympics? Is the RYA attempting to push multihulls out via the back door by not promoting youth classes? All of your feedback is welcome at .

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