Sailing has enjoyed a prominent 2016, with growing interest in the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series and, of course, the Olympic Games in Rio. The latter event is unquestionably the regatta that garners the most exposure and creates the longest column inches for the sport away from specialist outlets.
Following the Games, World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, had a presidential election during its annual conference in November. The incumbent president Carlo Croce, who was seeking a second and final term, ran on the election manifesto ‘A new era for World Sailing’ and was widely expected to be re-elected. However, the Italian lost a tight vote to rival candidate and moderniser Kim Anderson, who ran a campaign that called for more unity, transparency and inclusivity from the sport’s hierarchy.
And, after barely enough time to put his feet under his desk, Anderson spoke to SportsPro about how he hopes to reinvigorate sailing as a whole, what his style of leadership will be, how big a role the Olympic Games plays and how sailing plans on producing the next Sir Ben Ainslie or Jimmy Spithill.
How has your first month in charge been?
I have been very busy meeting new people. A lot of people have been in contact to congratulate me but also to give me their opinion on what can be optimised or what can be done differently in the future. That is always positive but, also, we need to create a structure that will enable us to go forward and make good decisions based on all of this input. I appreciate the input but the first weeks have been very turbulent.
What sort of state was World Sailing in when you joined?
Well, I have been part of World Sailing for many years: I worked for eight years in council, on the events committee and equipment committee. So I know World Sailing from the inside. I already know the structure of the organisation - but the arrangement of the new office is something that I need to become acquainted with.
It is probably still a little bit too early for me to definitively say what the state was. However, I think that there are a lot positive of things that I can add with my professional background of running various companies. On the other hand, I have got a new board, who I need to firstly meet and then collaborate on ideas with. Some of them have been serving for the past four years but there are also a lot of new members. I am sure that together we can find a good pathway forward for World Sailing.
What do you see as your main priorities as president of World Sailing?
I will try to follow out the policies that I set out in my election campaign. I believe that there are three main priorities to ensure the future success of World Sailing. Firstly, we must work on the Olympic movement in order to secure our Olympic status and to be proactive in how we are conducting our sport at the Olympics - which is a very important shop window for sailing - and also to attract more people.
The second issue is about growing the sport and that has two lines of growth: adding more nations to World Sailing - we have 146 but we have more interested - and also we want to make a very strong programme that will make us better connected across the globe.
Lastly, the way that we are governing our sport. We have a very complex structure which, I think, should be more transparent for everyone. Everyone should be able to see the how we get to the discussions. On the governance structure, we must work on the transparency.
Those are the three main priorities that I am working on now.
During year election campaign you called for more transparency in how the World Sailing manages the sport and its finances. What have you done to address this?
First of all, I have looked at how we were accounting for some of our sponsorship. We have talked through with the sponsors and we are also in contact with them about what type of set-up we want to use because, of course, we must have transparency: it is important not only for World Sailing but also for all of our sponsors. We are working on this right now.
We have been working a lot on deciding on the venue for the Olympics [at Tokyo 2020], a decision that we have to make by the end of February. We have been sending out directives to the various committees and working parties on when we want them to deliver and how we want them to deliver.
Tomorrow we have our board meeting, which will mean that we will have two days together so that we can set out what our priorities are on a short-term basis.
How closely do you work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC)?
Well I am sitting in Lausanne right now. I am meeting with the key people from the IOC - I have been in dialogue by email already - for the whole of today.
Your predecessor Carlo Croce was renowned for a somewhat hands-off style. Will you be taking a wholly different approach?
I wouldn’t like to comment on Carlos’ approach but I would say, basically, when I started the campaign, I have tried to make myself available as much as possible for interviews. This is definitely a different style than what has been experienced by everyone in the last four years.
It is not that I see that as a major issue for me but this is something that comes with the job and you need to represent your sport in the best way possible, which can only be helped by being available for interviews and media. That has, of course, changed with immediate effect.
Then you can say that we are being more hands-on by having a very clear level of decision-making. What is the board’s level of operating and who is responsible for what in the office? This is one of the major topics that we are talking about at board meetings: how do we conduct ourselves and structure our management? I am not saying that everything is not working there but there are certainly some principles that the board need to agree on in order to make sure that the office has the desired competency levels.
I think that a board shouldn’t be involved in daily operations but should set the framework for the daily operations so that they can support and develop where necessary. That is the difference between being directly involved and setting the framework, and guiding and supporting.
How are you making sailing a more inclusive sport and how much of a role does Agenda 2020 play in that?
The heritage of sailing is great and we must ensure that we serve and protect that because it is such a large part of our history. On the flip side, it basically comes down to making the sport more accessible by inviting young people into sailing, not just on to the boats but making them feel comfortable around water.
We have to broaden what we offer to the youth to make sailing attractive. They have so many possibilities that are more eclectic nowadays and we need to match that.
It is also about having rooted regional development. This format works better than directing regional development from a point of view because you are getting closer to the people you want to attract. I am trying to see if we can work out a plan on how we can get more regional influences in because the different regions and continents have different needs, on different levels. We should be able to accommodate the more bespoke demands by being more de-centralised. That is not to say that they should have their own ruling, because I think that we will need to apply the same rules for everyone, but maybe the way to conduct and manage them is more localised.
You mentioned that you want entice a younger audience to sailing. Do you have any plans to create modified, shorter forms of the sport like, for example, they have in cricket?
I am very involved in trying to understand the digital generation - everyone born after 1995 - that have been brought up with a laptop and the worldwide web. From the age of two or three they are able to handle an iPad and things like that. We need to somehow connect to these generations.
There are a lot of good initiatives around the world: in the south of Europe they are doing it one way and the US believes in another. It is interesting because it is a code that we need to crack for all sports.
What do you see as your biggest challenges as the head of World Sailing?
That has to be to bring our sport to a greater audience. We are sometimes too inward-looking; as sailors we have a great fascination about sailing but we are sometimes not very good at explaining the entrance formula to people outside.
We have a lot of new media that we can use, such as tracking systems. We also have 24-hour live coverage on the internet; this is preferable to using a mainstream broadcast platform so we aren’t worried about the TV slots or waiting for the correct winds. There are a lot of things that new media can do for us to explain our sport and to give an interest to people who aren’t sailors.
In your opinion is the most important event in World Sailing’s calendar?
Many people would say the Olympics and - being sat in Lausanne right now - I would agree with that! But that is not really true because you have several pinnacle sports - the Volvo Ocean Race, the Americas Cup, and the Olympics - which I think showcases the charm and diversity of our sport. It also represents the difficulty, for us, of how we profile the sport.
By bringing sailing to a broader audience using the media, we can explain the extreme challenges in an endurance race like the Volvo Ocean Race - the pinnacle of racing that goes around the world - and at the same time we are able to explain the tactical challenges that you have on an America’s Cup race or an Olympic race.
On top of that, we have a lot of stories to explain about our interesting equipment. There is so much more to tell people about sailing that we aren’t doing right now. But, back to the question: I think that we certainly have more than one pinnacle in World Sailing.
What is World Sailing doing to ensure that they have another superstar, like Sir Ben Ainslie or Jimmy Spithill, who would transcend the sport?
It is not only a case of explaining the sport to more people but it is also to help create heroes and make them more visible - that is the job of World Sailing. But it is a parallel media strategy because as we can already see from all of the current stars in sailing, they are accessible because - though it is a complex sport - it also offers plenty of opportunities outside of the boat to boost the profile of the heroes that we have.
What are you doing to ensure that sailing returns to the Paralympics?
We have a plan that we are, of course, reviewing in order to ensure that we get there. I can assure you that it has our upmost attention at the moment. We have just qualified Kiel as the venue for the World Championships in 2017 and we are working very hard to get up to the numbers required to fulfil the International Paralympic Committee (IPC ) standard of 34 nations and that seems possible.
We have a game plan on how to get there and we, of course, have a further one and a half years to show that this is a consistent level that we can actually produce. So I think that I think that we have a good solid plan on how to get to the Paralympics but it is now about execution, not just having the plan.
Are you optimistic that sailing will return to the Paralympics?
Yes I am.
Where do you see the future of World Sailing during your term as president?
I think that media development is a key area. The recent Star Sailors League [SSL, an international regatta circuit] was, for example, shown on the internet. It was exciting because it had live commentating, a tracking system to follow the boats and the focus was really on the sailors, not on type of boats or technology.
That is where I want us to be in four years’ time; the focus should be on these young and existing heroes in the boat. This is how I want us to present our sport, in that standard that will give more insight to the experts and make it more understandable for the new fan.