At the 2019 World Sailing Conference in Bermuda, The Finn Class made eight submissions to try to get the Finn back on the Olympic slate for 2024. Hector Simpson, a young Finn sailor from the UK was asked to make the presentation to the Events and Equipment committees on behalf of Finn sailors everywhere. What he said was both powerful and emotional and derseves to be read. So here it is....
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you all today. I’m Hector and I’m speaking on behalf of the Finn Class not because of my skills as a speaker but because my story encapsulates everything that is wrong with World Sailings decision and I believe the slate we are proposing is better in every single respect. I understand why you guys have made that decision. We are under pressure to keep sailing an Olympic sport. We want to keep our youth inspired, be embracive of new technology, have differentiated events, and achieve gender equity. But whilst created with the best of intentions, the event slate is destructive. I believe that the proposal we have today is better than the current Olympic slate in every respect.
I think the best way to demonstrate what is so wrong with the current 2024 slate is to tell you my story. I started sailing on holiday in a 20-year-old bright yellow topper. That’s where I was taught how to sail and for some reason it just clicked. I was good and I caught the bug. I found my talent. Finally, something I was good at. Local grass routes sailors saw me and encouraged me. I qualified for the regional squad in a Topper, and met some of my most inspiring coaches. They taught us that anything is possible. They said we all had talent, that was why we were selected but it was what we did with that talent that counted. There was no reason why if we put the work in, we couldn’t be the next Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy. There was a pathway ahead of us and whatever size we ended up there was a boat we could sail in the Olympics.
The whole group of us; we were inspired. The thought we could one day be like them. In the winter we wouldn’t spend all day on the Xbox or the computer, we would all wake up early break the ice of our boats and go sailing. We’d come back borderline hypothermic, but we did it again and again because we had the dream that we could one day go to the Olympics. Local sailors would give us tips. They supported us.
I progressed through the classes. I was always disadvantaged because of my size. Too big and heavy in the light winds then when it was windy, racing was always cancelled because of health and safety concerns. I always got good results, but I was never the RYA’s superstar. It didn’t matter though. There was a clear pathway to the Olympics. One day I could finally be in a boat that I was the right size for.
I finally transitioned into the Finn. When I finished university, I was able to turn my attention to the class full time. I saw a huge improvement. I was suddenly in contention for medal races, I was racing neck and neck with the best guys in the world and I’d just medalled at the junior worlds. But then I get news of the decision; the Finn won’t be in the Olympics. My Olympic dreams that were starting to look real, were gone. Nowhere for me to go.
By removing a men’s heavyweight dinghy, world sailing is telling me they don’t want me. People like me; people my height, people who are always going to be too big for another Olympic class just don’t bother. Give up. The Olympics aren’t meant for us. What am I meant to tell the tall local topper sailor at my club who is training every weekend? Don’t bother mate, people like you and me, sailing doesn’t want us. Give up. Do something different, go do another sport. If that isn’t discrimination, then I don’t know what is. The crazy thing is that we are all becoming bigger and bigger. A sport that has the opportunity to cater for everybody through selection of classes is going to be excluding more and more of us.
Dinghy sailing is the traditional entry point for all other types of sailing and by excluding people like me from the Olympics we are losing a massive feeder of talent into the wider sailing world. It has also left the wider sailing community in disillusionment. The guys who once gave me tips when I was younger and supported and encouraged me, now find it hard to recognise the Olympics. They don’t feel the Olympics properly represent them or the sport at the grass routes. The problem is that without these people, there will be no support, no community no pathway and no sailing as we know it.
Inspiration. It’s not about fancy videos, it’s not about the latest technology. It’s about progression. It’s about knowing that you are on a journey. It’s about knowing that whatever your background, whatever your gender, whatever your size. If you work hard you can become Olympic champion.
I spoke yesterday and not even a single person even proposed this motion for discussion. I was disgusted, they effectively all looked me in the eye and told me there isn’t a place in Olympic sailing for me or people like me. However, you guys have the chance to change this. Please have a read over the submissions, they tick all the boxes and I’m sure you will see that they are better.