Kite Wars

Kite Wars

Recent organizational developments in the kiteboarding world make most of our tiffs with US Sailing seem downright friendly.  But first, a little background on our sort-of-sailing-related cousins:

The Battleground
Just weeks ago, a fledgling group known as the International Kiteboard Federation (IKF) issued a press release stating that it is "the World Governing Body for kiteboarding" and that the IKF had been "granted full World Championship Title rights for the sport."  To most kiteboarders, this didn’t mean a thing.  After all, kiteboarding has been around for a long time, and other than a few semi-organized pro tour events, there was never any reason for organizing.  But to another fledgling group – the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) – this was war. 

The IKA was formed just last year, and in the 18 months or so since its formation, the organization hasn’t accomplished much – though it did sink almost all its membership income into a lobbying effort to become recognized by our buddies at ISAF as an International Class.  Even with this bold administrative move, the IKA hasn’t gathered much steam – with such a young racing scene and such wide diversity in the types of kiting people do, there’s been little justification for it outside the pro circuit, which mostly took care of itself, fueled by a surfing attitude and some fat sponsorship deals.

But for some, the writing was on the wall; the IKA was headed for consolidation under ISAF, and the folks who didn’t like this direction (and their sponsors) took a walk, founding of the IKF.  But they didn’t go alone – they also took the Italian FKI with them, and more importantly, the Kiteboard Pro World Tour,(KPWT) one of the two major kiting tours in the world. Having just agreed to a loose affiliation with the other major tour, the PKRA, IKA still had a bit of leverage – but not much.  In any other sport, this would devolve into a marketing battle (we’ve seen it in motor racing a ton), but in sailing, there are other ways to fight, thanks to ISAF.

The Offensive
Just a week after the IKF’s announcement, the IKA issued their own release, this one an aggressive attack on the IKF and KPWT, replete with errors in both spelling and logic.  The release announced that IKA would use ISAF rules to ensure that competitors in any IKF/KPWT events would "loose" their eligibility for any IKA/ISAF sanctioned events, including the KPWT and continental championships (of which there have been zero or one, depending on where in the IKA website you look).  Their logic is bizarre: 

"The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) is the only world wide governing body for any kind of sailing sports, including kiteboarding, and as such recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) is the only kiteboarding class inside ISAF.  IKF (a new “association” calling themselves the “world governing body for kiteboarding) and their affiliate, the Kiteboard Pro World Tour, therefore disregard the worldwide respected structures and have to bear the consequences."

The Problem
IKA’s justification for excluding the other associations riders is spurious at best.  It rests on nothing more than the power of ISAF to ban people from sailing, though only a tiny part of the kiteboarding world has any connection with IKA, and ISAF, at all.  After all, how can a single ISAF Class represent the wave jumpers, the course racers, the speed boarders, and the rest of the disparate disciplines in kiting?  Imagine how your class would look if it tried to govern Hobie 14s, Lasers, Stars, TP52s, and Maxis.  Make sense?

But IKA’s threat is a lot bigger than it might seem, and it’s a familiar one for anyone who remembers similar battles over snowboarding in the 90s.  It is, of course, the Olympics.

"But kiteboarding is not in the Olympics," you say? 

Enter IKA’s official bid for inclusion in the 2016 Rio games –  released yesterday – along with a shoddy PDF brochure (created on 10 December according to the document history) explaining why kiteboarding, via IKA, should be in the Olympics.  We’re not sure yet whether IKA had, or needed, ISAF’s assent to their proposal, but with the travesty of the IOC elimination of the Tornado from the Olympics, this is some scarred ground that IKA is treading on.  And their motives are as transparent as they come:  Get rid of their competitors at all costs using all methods available. 

We’re watching this one closely, and not just because we love kiteboarding (and we think it should be in the Olympics anyway).  We’re watching because an organization is using the ultimate bullshit weapon at their disposal to exclude people from a sport, and that weapon was created and fostered by ISAF.  Threatening exclusion of competitors from an event simply because they raced in another event is a pathetic way to make people join your organization, and constitutes an admission that your event or class isn’t good enough to attract and retain people without the threat of expulsion.

At least ISAF has an excuse; sailing has been run for a long time by folks with exclusion in their blood.  Kiteboarding has no such excuse.

There’s a thread here if you’d like to comment.