Sailing in Italy vs Sailing in New Zealand. Numbers and considerations

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New zealand sailing
A sailing lesson in New Zealand. Image source: https://www.yachtingnz.org.nz/

Do you remember our “case of the summer,” that is, the one opened by the “recipe” to multiply sailors by avoiding youth dispersion and then turned into a real trial of the sailing school and its iconic boat, the Optimist, in Italy? So many of your contributions have come in, testifying to the topicality of the topic.

There is one, in particular, written by Marco Tommasi, president of the LNI of Cesenatico and Expert Sailor, instructor since 1991 who analyzes the issue in depth and tries to give an explanation of how the sailing system works in Italy by comparing it in detail with the one everyone refers to, the New Zealand system. From preschool age to the role of the school and that of the sailing instructor, from the Italian context to the “ideal” one. Read it carefully, and let us know your opinion. The sailing school trial continues.


The sailing situation in Italy

by Marco Tommasi*

I have carefully read the “Case of the Summer” 2023 published in the Journal of Sailing, relating to youth dispersal and in general on the ways in which competitive sailing and sailing in general is approached and managed in Italy, also comparing it with other models, in relation to results but not only to this aspect and only to this discipline, but can be extended to sports organization in general, with a peculiarity that moreover pertains specifically to sailing and some other practices, viz. being able to be sport understood as competitive and competitive, but also much else, in many ways completely different, and this aspect is on average not well understood and sufficiently valued.

I hope to make a contribution in the form of data, experiences, studies and reflections gained over the course of now 34 years of activity. Nothing exhaustive, given the space available, but insights that I hope will be helpful in understanding the causes of the problem. Apart from hundreds of courses as an instructor, trainer and lecturer, I soon began to compare myself with other models, and to wonder what the big differences I was finding both from a competitive results point of view and-most importantly-the huge difference in cultural approach to sailing and beyond depended on.


1. Play vs. agonism

Early competitive specialization and dropping out especially in the 14/17 age group have been known aspects for a long time, but the various reforms that have followed have never really touched (I don’t say solved) the nodes of the problem, since the Educational Agencies (Family, School, Associations) each proceed on their own without any kind of real synergy and integration, and the aims are almost always focused on education and rarely on education (in fact we have the MIUR).

I will summarize in the extreme with an example: if a student is in the position of having to choose between devoting the weekend to studying in preparation for a class assignment or a question on Monday, and a practice/race, what will the parents, who are ultimately responsible for the decision, choose?

  1. Lack of motor activity (back in eighty-four, at ISEF, the key phrase was “psychomotor education,” but even today it is summarized as “gymnastics.”) In school, there is a lack of sports as a formative moment, which organized externally, aimed at results, and those who do not get them quit, because there is no alternative, since everything has been shaped and structured for this goal; who competes knowing that they cannot compete, if the approach is not educational, but summarized by orders of arrival and rankings?
  2. If a parent who “wants in child champion,” will choose sports activity, will come into conflict with the school if the latter is unable to meet both demands, and even in the case of the scholar/sportsman, will disregard the needs dictated by entering the most delicate stage of development, forcing him to give up a life of relationships outside of structured settings.
  3. The result is that the adolescent will find himself living-“well,” in three separate contexts and impervious to each other, each based on different and often antithetical procedures, principles, needs, languages and practices, and at best will manage to find the synthesis independently (partial resumption of sports practice after age 18).

The obvious conclusion would be (as is the case in the Anglo-Saxon model) for the activity to be practiced within the school in an integrated way, but here the “Gym teacher” is still regarded as a kind of privileged person who does not have to prepare and correct homework and who, at best, makes people play volleyball while reading the newspaper.

Or alternatively (obviously more complicated, but certainly not impossible), that some sort of control room existed between the three subjects, while discussing in the abstract the “parenting support” to help poor families who-curiously enough-fail to play a purposeful and positive role with their children and the school that proceeds to educate and not train future citizens.

athletes analysis

Then there is the approach and preparation of the technicians to consider.

The following are some slides taken from a CONI School of Sport training course I attended, referring to all disciplines.

As can be easily inferred, the formal incipit is of Go beyond the figure of the “leader with the whistle or marker”, wielding regulations, rules, tactics at the blackboard, replicating the school model, and not by accident, returning to the nautical sphere we speak of sailing “schools,” while in the Anglo-Saxon world we speak of “clubs”.

But who builds and constructs sailing “as a (sporting, educational, training) idea” in Italy, given that we are the most single-sport country in the world, totally colonized by the ubiquitous soccer metaphor?

The situation of boating is paradoxical, because on the one hand, nothing could be more educating and formative, but on the other hand, hard to find an activity more expensive and almost entirely borne by families, except those of the “phenomena,” which then are not always such, since in thirty-three editions of the Olympic Games, Italy has brought home three gold medals, of which one in windsurfing, and that in the Olympic ranking we are in thirteenth place, after countries such as the aforementioned Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, which should have somewhat less favorable weather conditions and seas than in our latitudes and fewer resources to invest.


2. The organization

The article mentions UISP (which, by the way, has signed a memorandum of understanding with IVF in the past), CSEN and CVC. Actually there is also the LNI and AICS, active mainly in the regatta sector, and other scattered EPSs.

Here is one of the knots, that is, everyone goes their own way, whereas the models of the RYA or YNZL, show that a single Entity that oversees activities, issuing rules and regulations that apply to all, fosters growth and constant improvement in performance, and everyone takes care of their own area, and the overall industry grows.

Always very succinct:

  1. A single entity that deals with standards, rules, supports, training, patents, etc.
  2. Individuals dealing with specific areas, in synergy with others (racing, boating, safety, etc.).
  3. In Italy, broadening the look, there are, for example, also Nautical Schools, so we have FIV Circles that do regattas and licenses, LNI Sections that do licenses and by affiliating with the FIV, also regattas, CVCs that proceed on their own, such as EPSs, etc. Everyone is doing a little bit of everything, no one is doing anything “right,” and it is the usual everyone-against-all to grab ever-smaller slices of a pie that is now the size of a cream puff (just to cite one example, boating licenses have gone from about 34,000 to just under 10,000 in ten years).

Remaining at the antipodes, let’s look at the comparison with New Zealand, which gets higher results than the Italian ones in all fields (Olympic ranking, America’s Cup, world championships, etc.,) and let’s get to the aforementioned querelle concerning the Optimist, taking into consideration only the FIV data, as far as Italy is concerned.

New Zealand - Italy comparison on sailing

Beyond the mere numerical data, which nevertheless provides interesting indications, since we are comparing two countries, one of which has one-tenth the population of the other, far fewer sailing clubs and youth-age practitioners, but many more competitive sailors (43,000 vs. 4/6,000), further data clarify the situation even better:

  1. In 2019, the percentage of boaters among the general population in New Zealand is estimated at 45 percent, the highest ever recorded. That brings to about 1,672,920 New Zealanders involved in recreational boating.
  2. 18 percent acquired their knowledge by attending boating courses designed specifically for adults.
  3. Seventy-five percent of all sailors reported that they acquired their boating knowledge from their friends and family members.
  4. Ten percent gained their knowledge by attending boating courses specifically designed for the school-age group of practitioners.

In summary, very low percentages of practitioners have taken courses because there is a system/country that provides high-level training, and only those who are interested in competitive sailing take specific courses, after learning how to navigate.

As I mentioned, the task should be approaching boating at a widespread level, given the average incompetence (then I’ll come back to it, data in hand) of our native boaters, and only then, select those who intend to compete.

You may think, however, that in New Zealand, the big ones play rugby and everyone else goes boating, but this is not the case, as can be easily seen from the tables below.

The first is related to physical activity in general, the second to regulated sports activity.

Or you might think that the Kiwis devote a lot more resources to sailing, but again this is not the case:

budget figures data

Specifically, NZD 1,765,505 dedicated to the Olympic program and NZD 836,601 to “talent development.”

We conclude this brief examination (but complete data are readily available on the net), with the question regarding the Optimist, which as already mentioned is little considered even by Australians, Britons, etc. because New Zealanders wondered what their success depended on in the face of larger, wealthier, more populous nations and identified the Optimist as one of the reasons.

It would appear that New Zealand’s success on the world stage is mainly at the big end of the scale, in other words boats crewed by those whose racing careers started with the P-boat, and where the Opti was just a Learn to Sail boat and not a Learn to Race, or even Serious Racing Boat” (from Sail World).


3. All against all

As mentioned above, to a substantial lack of common strategies among the Educational Agencies, must be added the proceeding in random order of the various structures mentioned above.

But it is still not enough, because unlike the vast majority of other sports, where there are championships, tournaments, and competitions of all levels, in the sailing world, the IVF has always tried to represent the entire competitive landscape, with a further one-dimensional view.

Thus, if there are amateur leagues for soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming, etc. organized and managed by EPSs, on average aimed at athletes and clubs not at the “high” level (the Sport for All), a model has always been put in place in sailing that has somehow tried to pass off the notion that “racing” was exclusively a federal prerogative, and courses aimed at children and adolescents were only those that initiate competition, with the obvious result that those who are not interested/brave/rich have no alternative once they leave the world of competition, because they have been directed to conceive of sailing solely as sailing as fast as possible between a dinghy and a buoy and back.

Those who return (but they are fewer and fewer) to the boating world do so as adults, with good financial means, maintaining a mindset tied to technical aspects and often completely neglecting everything else, without having matured the awareness that sailing is anything but a regatta on Olympic classes.

I myself have organized a course of regattas aimed at instructors (the Tactics & Didactics Cup), and I have always heard replies from the bodies in charge (Captaincies, municipalities, etc.), that “only the IVF can organize regattas.”

Of course, when I asked to see what rule prevented anyone from holding a competition, the interlocutor was never able to find anything to support his claims, at which point I always had to explain how things actually worked.

It is not a matter of backyards & steeples, but the simple observation that the letter “O” of CONI, means “Olympic,” that is, what pertains to “competitive preparation in the key of high performance.”

In essence, the question is simple; how many Olympic champions have emerged from competitions of an average laughable level (in terms of “high performance”) such as the Winter Championships, just to give an example, which should be the preserve of associations that aim for aggregation and not performance?

Resources, while substantial, should be directed where they are needed to bring home results (Olympic Program and Talent Development, as seen above in the case of NZL), but while in Anglo-Saxon countries contributions are only partly governmental (and related to results, not to the number of card-carrying members), in Italy it is essential to accumulate cards.


4. Conclusions that actually are not

The examination is certainly not exhaustive (I used the complete data to structure part of the LNI equalization pathway), but I hope it will complement what was written in the article.

There would remain much to be said, moving out of the specific context and into the general one, including boat licenses, costs, laws, regulations, etc.

While it may seem logical that with five hours certified by a Nautical School an owner can take a 23.99 mt lft boat and sail to Hawaii rounding Cape Horn (he is qualified for “unlimited sailing”) with an RTF License, it means that in the imagination of local boaters, boating is a concept far removed from reality.

Most importantly, it means that there is a system-not a system-working to make them believe it.

Here I will just touch on what has been written above regarding the condition of domestic boaters, and I do so by citing the MIT’s Marine Casualty Report, which examines the period between 2010 and 2019, regarding the situation of boating in Italy.

“…as pointed out earlier, the types of ship units for which the largest number of bad practices in the 2010-2019 decade are the recreational units, for which about 40 percent of the total violations detected were found…ad hoc recommendations were issued aimed at improving the specific regulations and/or operating procedures used by vessel operators and maritime workers: for example, a recommendation for a regulatory change such that the purchase of the recreational vessel would be subject to the attendance of mandatory safety courses, or to establish more detailed periodic inspections even for small recreational or fishing vessels, which have hitherto had fewer inspections than those of the larger vessel.”

Bad nautical practices

It means that the whole system-country dealing with boating-has basically failed its task, certainly not only those who are involved in agonism, because in reality there is not a system but a patchwork of small lobbies that aim only at maintaining position rents, without realizing that a synergy and a serious division of roles with a single direction would end up benefiting everyone.

Just one example; during the first meeting to define in detail the figure of the Professional Sailing Instructor, the MIT executive doing the honors opened the proceedings by stating verbatim that “he knew nothing about sailing.”

At the end, I proposed to the other participants at the table (FIV, CONI, Unasca, Confarca, MM) to open a table and work out a common proposal to present to MIT.

There was only one meeting, with IVF and MM, then nothing more.

The year was 2018, we are now in 2023, and of the Implementing Decrees that were supposed to regulate the figure of the IVP still no trace … and I would say fortunately, since it is such an ill-conceived law that it is better left unimplemented.


*Who is Marco Tommasi

Marco Tommasi tells his resume like this:

Very briefly, I have been a UISP drift instructor since ’91, on cabin cruisers since ’92, an instructor trainer since ’98, and a trainer of trainers since ’99. I have also trained instructors and collaborated with several IVF clubs while not being a member.

Since 2015 I have joined the LNI, first as president of the Cesenatico Section, then as Expert Sailor and from 2018 to 2021 as National Training Director, also participating in the work related to the definition of the figure of the Professional Sailing Instructor, at the MIT, together with the Vice President of the IVF, leaders of CONI, MM, etc. I set up the LNI training credit system, and organized and managed the equalization of nearly a thousand LNI Instructors and Expert Sailors, in 41 equalization sessions throughout Italy.

Before devoting myself to sailing full-time, during and after my ISEF studies, I played several sports competitively and later served as a federal coach in three different disciplines, coaching both at the youth level and with adults.

I started in ’92 sailing in Ireland, Wales and Brittany, and from 2005 to 2019 I organized eighteen school cruises in these areas, as well as having sailed in the summer months, in the St. George Channel from ’95 to ’96, with a locally purchased ’67 6.73 cabin cruiser.

On the side, I am a professional trainer, BLSD trainer, First Aid and Pediatric Prevention trainer, and have been for years responsible for organizing the historical seafaring courses of the Maritime Museum of Cesenatico, as well as designing and organizing national and regional projects and activities aimed at schools, the disabled, adolescent distress, etc., through sailing.

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