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OPENING THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
At a meeting of European National Secretaries held recently in Cervia, there was discussion of a radical change to the Deed of Gift of the European Championship: the possibility of making the regatta open, giving voice to what some Snipe sailors have long demanded. Until recently, the topic was considered a provocation, if not completely taboo.
For many dinghy classes (420, Star, 505, Fireball … it could be interesting try to collect a list) the Europeans are open, and for some of them also the Worlds are open.
First of all, a terminological clarification. What does an “Open” Snipe regatta mean? In my opinion there are two meanings: the first, wider, covers a regatta in which any member of the class can participate, with no selections of any kind. Everyone is eligible: European, North American, South American, Japanese, women, juniors.
A second meaning, more restricted, considers an open regatta (in our case the European Championship) open only to members of a European SCIRA country, but with no restriction on numbers, determined by “quotas” for each country.
I personally am in favor of changing the Europeans’ D.o.G. so as to enable the participation of anyone: Open in the broadest sense, Europeans or not. At first I was a bit perplexed, I am now convinced.
Regarding the open Worlds… I still have some doubts, as you will read later.
Currently, the Deed of Gift of the European Championship reads as follows:
The European Championship is open to:
1. The current European Champion
2. The current Jr. European Champion
3. Top 2 boats from the European Cup
4. One women’s team per country
5. One junior team per country
6. Host country may have 3 additional entries: 1 junior, 1 for the host club or fleet, and one additional for the country. The above are in addition to the entries in #7 below.
7. Four skippers from any European country in good standing with SCIRA, preferably the National Champion for the current year or his alternates, plus one additional skipper for each 25 boats on which dues have been paid to SCIRA, up to a maximum of twelve skippers.
8. The host country may have 3 more boats for a total of 15 skippers.
The present system thus provides a quota of boats per country, in proportion to the number of Class members. Probably the system was created to avoid the risk that the organizers had not found a sufficient number of charter boats, or that too many skippers wanted to attend the regatta.
The original D.o.G. of the European Championship reflected, perhaps unwittingly, an elitist concept of participation in international events: only the best specialists in the Snipe class can attend an international regatta. For them to represent their country is an honor and an exclusive privilege.
Now the situation has changed.
There is a large amount of competition for Snipe sailing, with an incredible number (and fragmentation) of classes. Some of these have considerable appeal, especially to the younger generations, and sometimes many young sailors are directed to another class by their national federations.
By contrast, the Snipe class can boast a long history and tradition and excellent internal organization. Those who already sail Snipes are closely tied to the class. At major regattas we find often the same friends, and it is a bit unusual to find new faces.
Why the numbers are down
Apart from the isolated case of Spain, where, thanks to the activity of some clubs and some fleets, there is a large participation at the regattas, in other countries there is a contraction and a decrease in the number of sailors.
In Portugal the economic crisis is making its effects, while in the Scandinavian countries there is a lack of support from the federations and a lack of generational change. In Italy there is a decrease in the number of participants in the regattas, probably due to rising costs of travel.
At the last Europeans (43 boats and 8 countries), Sweden, France, Britain, Portugal and Croatia were not represented. If it not been for the large number of Italian and Spanish teams (eligible due to a “new” interpretation of the Deed of Gift, made before the European Championship in 2010), there would have been a low number of participants in the European Championship. Maybe a bad record.
Is it true that the cause of these problems is only the economic crisis and the fragmentation of the sailing world in a myriad of classes? And is it true that the solution to these problems is an Open Championship? Obviously not, because the topic is broader and more complex, and more generally it involves the promotion of the class. But to make open a signature event is a step for exposing the Snipe to new sailors and therefore renewing itself.
Spreading the word about Snipes
We all know what a Snipe is: a technical boat, which relies on tactics and strategy, and where to go fast you must be athletic and fit, where the speed difference is smaller than in other dinghies and you can have fun on the water and on the land. Snipe equipment remains competitive for years and is relatively inexpensive (this is a strength in a time of economic crisis!). Do other sailors know what a Snipe is? How can they learn what a Snipe is?
A class becomes attractive if it can potentially attract other competitors. But to attract new sailors, uncertain in the choice among thousands of other classes, the Snipe class should be open (or more open).
A large class with many major regattas with a lot of boats increases the number of members and sailors who want to compete in large regattas. A large regatta gets even larger with a ripple effect.
For a sailor (not Snipe sailor), seeing 80 boats participating in a Europeans (compared to a little more than 40 now) may be a good reason to race a Snipe. Nontheless, I hope, a Snipe sailor would be more determined to leave, for example, Britain, France, Sweden, Portugal and Croatia, to race with another 80 boats in another part of Europe.
Moreover, a regatta with 80 boats has a greater impact on the media (sailing magazines, website) than a 40 boat elitist regatta. Our Class has more members and European countries than many other classes. The Snipe class is really an International Class, but today it has far fewer boats participating in its European Championship compared to other classes not really so international as the Snipe.
Some people might argue that with an Open Europeans the national and local racing activity would diminish or disappear, if the challenger series was no longer needed to qualify. Of this I am not convinced, because anyone who is interested in an international event is generally interested in training and racing in any regatta of their own country.
Too Many Boats?
The risk (if any) that at a European Championship there are too many boats can be solved by dividing the fleet into gold and silver divisions, as in other classes.
Would the clubs be able to organize regattas with many boats? To answer we must separate the issue into two aspects: the costs and logistics.
To organize an international event, there are fixed costs (eg. international jury, measurers, race committee) that can be more easily covered by 80 teams instead of 40. The income from entry fees is obviously more. And it is also easier to find sponsors and support from the local authorities if it is an event with a big numerical impact and importance to the media.
About the logistics, the standards required by SCIRA are already high. The hosting clubs usually have already a long tradition of organizing international competitions and have the facilities to accommodate a large number of boats and sailors.
Personally my only reservation about an open championship is the problem for chartering boats. Most who take part in a Europeans usually sail their own boats. Europe is a continent where, perhaps with a triple deck trailer, you can organize transportation and share the traveling expenses.
Open Worlds and WH&O? A different question
There would surely be a benefit also in making the World Championship and the WH & O open events. However, these events involve the participation of sailors from other continents, so charter boats must be guaranteed at affordable prices.
The organization of boat transportation or the creation of new charter boats, perhaps with the help of some Snipe builders, is a key point for the development of the Class and the organization of international events.
Currently it is impossible for a boat builder to build new Snipes for charter without the certainty of being able to sell them once the event ended. In fact most of the charter boats are used boats, provided by those who do not race. If a World Championship or a WH&O is Open, would we find a sufficient number of charter boats available?
If we can solve the charter boat problem, in my opinion, we could think also about an Open Worlds. For now, we could think about increasing the quotas (number of boats for each countries), given that the Worlds hardly comes close to 60 boats.
That’s all … I hope that this post can contribute to an open discussion. Suggestions, comments, proposal are welcome!
(Photos: Gigi Cantarelli, 2012 Europeans, Cervia; F.Gicquiaud, 2004 Europeans, Lorient; Jerelyn Biehl, 2006 Europeans, Pori; Michele Postinghel, 2009 Worlds, San Diego)