Sold a dream with no reality

By Marc Ablett

This editorial piece was written in response to a decision by the Australian Sailing Appeals Board to reject appeals by two Australian 49erFX crews about their non-selection to the Rio Olympics. Having qualified a spot for the Olympics in Rio this year, Australia was eligible to send a team but the selection panel chose not to. Two of the three teams appealed the decision, but both appeals were denied.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” – The Olympic Creed

At Down Under Sail we will always celebrate high achievers, and results in any competitive sport are unbelievably important. However we have and always will look outside of this to focus on the sport as a whole; from the kids sailing junior classes at club level to the weekend warriors who love getting away from the nine-to-five grind, getting out for a weekend hack around the course with a few mates and sucking back a couple foamers at the bar after.

When it comes to the Olympics the stories are out there for the world to see and once every four years you fall for a certain romance about athletes achieving their goal—everybody gets pumped up for five minutes and then it goes into the background for four years. The Olympics is brutal in any sport, a 100-metre sprinter sacrifices four years of his or her life to potentially run only once for just 10 seconds. Sailing on the other hand is a little different as the Olympics itself is a journey across 10 days of the event, but the beauty of our sport is so much can be learned over those 10 days and so many memories can be developed.

Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks sailing at the 2016 European Championships. Photo: Beau Outteridge

So after four years of being sold on a dream by our governing body and doing the right thing by qualifying our country, two 49erFX teams don’t even get the chance to work out who is the best in Australia, let alone head to the Olympics to create these memories and complete the journey.

There are stories everywhere, such as Tess Lloyd’s unbelievable recovery from the 2012 incident where a windsurfer collided with her 29er. Her crew at the time, Lewis Duncan, worked on instincts to help save her life and Tess then had to re-learn how to walk and talk. She is now competing in the very top echelon of 49erFX sailors around the world with her crew Caitlin Elks. Then there is Olivia Price, who is looking for redemption from her 2012 silver medal, which could so easily have been a gold in a fairytale story starting as a rank outsider to being in with a shot of the ultimate. Now her and crew Eliza Solly are some of the best skiff sailors in the world.

Both these teams have been put through an uncompromising four years. Yes, they probably have fantastic memories of their journey and travels so far, but there is no closure, no answer.

Now we can sit here and say the governing body, Australian Sailing (formerly Yachting Australia), is making a mistake and ask why they decide to spend four years funding these teams only to turn around at the 11th hour and appear to decide it’s not worth funding them for one more regatta. Yes, of course it’s training camps and staying in Rio and everything else that goes with it, but they have already been spending money traveling around the world for four years.

Olivia Price and Eliza Solly sailing at the 2016 European Championships. Photo: Beau Outteridge

My question is probably not of the decision makers behind it. They gave themselves an out by saying if a team does not make a medal race at a World Cup or major championship then they cannot compete, even though they are good enough to be in the fleet for the Olympics and the fact it contradicts the Olympic Creed. My main issue is, and always has been, with the selection process.

Go back to the year 2000, Adam Beashel and Teague Czislowski were the best performing team in the events that counted and topped the selection points table, yet Chris Nicholson and Daniel Phillips were selected on a personal recommendation and a theory they would perform better on Sydney Harbour. Now that’s not the athlete’s fault, nor is it the person making the decision’s fault. The problem is with the process, and the fact someone was allowed to make that decision is just terrible. Our sport is results based, so it’s black and white, unlike gymnastics or diving, so why should an opinion matter? Does anyone really understand the selection process? It seems to give decision makers an out when the decision becomes too tough.

We have obviously learned nothing in the 16 years since as it is clear those decisions can still be made. We are none the wiser of who should represent our country at the games. Many say Price and Solly were favourites to get the nod, yet Lloyd and Elks hadn’t been beaten by their counterparts in the last 15 months. So how do you make a decision with the current process?

What concerns me is how many of our up and coming sailors will get sold a dream only to have it ripped away at the 11th hour? It should be concrete if you meet the standards and guidelines outlaid, then you get to go. If it’s money that is the issue then it should be up to the individuals—if they can raise the funds they still should go, provided they are the number one selected team and it’s not an arms race.

This is also a major reason why our kids should not be sold purely on an Olympic dream as they come through the ranks—there is so much more to our sport. The journey to win a national title in any number of classes can be just as satisfactory for an individual or team, it’s just how you choose to look at it. Most of us (Olympians included) grow up with our heroes sailing in our own club or class.

We love having fun and taking the piss a bit here at Down Under Sail, but no one wins out of this recent decision, no one is happy about it and unfortunately it seems like no one is taking the piss.

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