inside game

This is a long piece, but well worth your time.

It’s not often that one of the true international policy-makers of our sport is prepared to speak candidly, and on the record, about the current state of competition sailing and its likely future. So when Australian yachtsman Matt Allen talks, you listen. Carefully. 

Last night he spoke at length as a guest at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Allen is a former Commodore of the Cruising yacht Club of Australia, member of the SOLAS Trust, was recently president of Australian Sailing, is a member of the Australian Olympic Committee’s Executive Board and currently vice-chair of World Sailing’s oceanic and offshore committee. 

His experience as a competitor is vast. Allen is a three-time Sydney-Hobart winner (once as crew, and more recently twice as skipper of his Botin 52 Ichi Ban). He has competed successfully in the Farr 40s, Melges 24s and raced in the Volvo and Transpac. It would be difficult to name a major figure in the international administration of the sport who is also such an active sailor. 

Here are some of his more pertinent observations on contemporary issues:

The Olympic Games

“We’re now going to have for Paris 2024 three male events ands three female events and – can you believe it – four mixed events. I think if you were sitting here a couple of years ago you’d have never thought sailing would have mixed events in the Olympic Games. I think that’s a terrific thing. I probably should also mention that with windsurfing we’re also going to foiling, which will really change windsurfing.

“The mixed offshore event is not just a game-changer for the Olympics – I think it’s a game changer for our sport. We’re going to have two people on a boat. We’re probably going to start it at lunchtime and we’re going to sail for about 48 hours. Male and female, two handed. No auto-helm, very little navigational aids apart from traditional chart plotter-type aids, no real communication so you’re not downloading new GRIB files or whatever. Just basic, pretty much old-fashioned, sailing. 

“So, 48 hours later we’ll shorten the course, bring the fleet in and first boat across the line wins gold, second silver, third bronze. It’ll be the only event during the Olympic Games that’ll run through the 24-hour period, so during the night time, if you’re in different time zones or you can’t sleep, the only live event over the two nights will be sailing. We’ll have onboard footage – I think it will be a fascinating concept.


“I think a lot of people have views on foiling boats. There’s no doubt foiling is coming into the sport. Certainly in reaching courses it would be pretty hard to beat a foiling boat today. There’s a lot of evolution going on there. 

“But I worry a little bit about the expense of foiling in the sport. It’s certainly going to increase the costs. It’s coming pretty quickly. You can debate how effective it’s going to be on the East Coast of Australia where it’s generally going upwind/downwind. But as soon as you get a reaching course the foiling boats are dominant. It’s interesting, but it’s probably not going to make the sport any cheaper – but it’s not that cheap already, I suppose!”

World Sailing governance 

“At a lot of these World Sailing meetings you spend four days talking about the Olympics. The Olympics are important – they’re the pinnacle of the sport (although we do have the America’s Cup, unlike other sports), but the Olympics is not the whole sport. I think we need to get the right people making the decisions in the Olympic arena. That’s a challenge.

“The governance changes they’re trying to bring in are just trying to make the countries that have expertise in the Olympics focus on the Olympics. At the moment a lot of countries that get involved in basically re-designing the Olympic Games have very little Olympic experience. There’s too many people in the room to have a sensible discussion.” 

“The changes that they’re trying to bring in London in a few months times would mean the countries that have got Olympic experience can decide on how the Olympics evolve and also then have a separate group of people that are looking at non-Olympics issues – the development of sailing, safety and other areas that are so important.” 

America’s Cup

“I was involved in the last America’s Cup on the Arbitration Tribunal, and I was getting involved at the very early stages on whether they were going to stick to multi hulls or go to mono hulls. The Italians won that argument in the end. 

“I personally think foiling like they’re doing, when they get a lot of air, at least when you come down on a multi-hull you’re probably not going to tip it in. Time will tell on these new boats. I’m sure they’ll get to sail them in the right way – they’re going to be really exciting boats – but personally I think it would have been easier to stay as a multi hull. But there’s no doubt this is going to be an incredibly exciting America’s Cup – as it always is.

Sailing and TV  

“There are five divisions in the TV classification of the Olympics Games – A, B, C, D and E. Sailing is in D. There’s no doubt in my mind that sailing will be an Olympic sport right up to 2032 but we’ve got to keep changing the sport to get it up to Group C. I think that’s doable, but we’ve got to work hard to do it. The offshore event I think will be a game-changer in that. 

“We’ve also got the kite boarding which will be really exciting to watch. But I haven’t seen it done properly on TV yet – you’ve got one person down here and another up there – I can never work out which is which! We need to get on top of that. The real question is how many medals [events] we can retain. Hopefully it’ll be 10 medals – that’s what we’ve got now – and hopefully that’s where we’ll stay as a sport, but you don’t want to rest on your laurels.”