Windsurfing back in Olympics after U-turn by sailing federation
Isaf restores sport's Olympic status following a general assembly meeting, ditching kiteboarding as a medal sport for Rio 2016
The Hong Kong Open windsurf-ing competition ended on a jubilant note yesterday as sailors and officials celebrated the unexpected restoration of their discipline to the Olympic Games programme.
The general assembly of the International Sailing Federation (Isaf) voted late on Saturday at its annual conference in Dublin, Ireland, to overturn a decision made in May to ditch windsurfing in favour of kiteboarding for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
The dramatic about-face came after a vote on Friday by the Isaf's council - subordinate to the general assembly - appeared to have all but ended the chances of having windsurfing restored to the Olympic programme.
"This is a very complicated, technical matter," said Hong Kong windsurfing head coach Rene Appel, who welcomed the decision, saying it was taken in the best interests of sailing.
"The general assembly can review any regulation made or amended in any substantive way by the council and this is the case with windsurfing regarding its participation at the 2016 Olympic Games.
"I am happy we won the vote at the general assembly. Kiteboarding is an exciting sport but they need to prove themselves for the next four or five years and I think it's something they will embrace and look at in a positive way. It is a very unfortunate situation for kiteboarding, which in my opinion should have not happened."
There were 114 possible votes at the general assembly and after a lengthy debate among the members, both the men's and women's RSX windsurfing events were reinstated, winning the vote with 52 per cent. A decision at the general assembly requires only a simple majority.
Jay Chau Hong-wai, vice-president of the Hong Kong Kiteboarding Federation, said his organisation accepted the decision and congratulated the windsurfing fraternity. "I have said before that the two classes are brothers and sisters and we don't want to be caught in a situation where either kiteboarding or windsurfing has to be out of the Olympics. As this is the decision made by the Isaf, we have to follow it. On a long-term basis, we will continue to work hard to promote our sport so that we can improve our status to be as competitive as any other sailing classes."
Appel was relieved that he and his team could now begin their preparations for the Rio Games.
"We have been in limbo for six months, not knowing whether we would be competing or not," he said. "Now we can sit down and do the planning. It will take two or three weeks to finalise the training programme for the long term.
"We know the conditions in Rio can be very light. It is very close to the shore and can be very gusty sometimes. We can address all these issues now in our plans."
The next major event for windsurfing will be the RSX world championships in Buzios, Brazil, in February and Hayley Chan Hei-man, who finished 12th at the Olympic Games in London, said she was ready to get back to business.
"We have gone through a lot of ups and downs over the past six months and I am happy it's all over now," said Chan, who also won the Hong Kong Open women's international RSX class with victories in all 10 races. "It is the best possible outcome as there will be both the men's and women's events at the 2016 Games. The London Games were a good experience and I have learned how to prepare for a major event. There is no doubt I want to win a medal for Hong Kong at the Rio Games, but I must still close the gap with the best windsurfers in the world in next couple of years before I can become a serious medal challenger."
Chan's 12th-place finish in London was the best Asian result. Andy Leung Ho-tsun, who finished 13th in the men's competition, was also an Asian best.
"I had considered a shift to another sport after the 2014 Asian Games, but now I can set my sights on windsurfing for a longer period," said a relieved Leung, who won the men's international RSX yesterday.
"I will go for more training with overseas athletes to improve my skills. I also need to be tougher mentally to become a real top-class windsurfer who can challenge for a medal in Rio."
Another development at the Dublin meeting was that Hong Kong's Karl Kwok was elected an Isaf council member for a term of four years. He will represent East Asia, along with Takao Otani of Japan.