INTERVIEW Giorgio Pisani: “Sailing is inclusion. I explain why.”

Sailing and inclusion
Sailing and inclusion are the themes of the interview we conducted with Giorgio Pisani, vice president of IBSA. Pictured are the Hansa 303s racing at the World Championship in Palermo in 2021.

The topic of social inclusion and how to achieve it concretely, without bringing it up out of hand for marketing purposes, is highly topical. Sailing, by its very nature, is one of the most “inclusive” activities there is because it allows, on the sporting side, handicapped athletes to compete on equal terms with able-bodied people (we are reminded of the last years of the life of the great Tino Straulino, where despite near-blindness he won offshore races).

And, on the human side, to have formative experiences that help one grow and enhance an individual’s problem solving ability.

Sailing is inclusion

Giorgio Pisani*, vice president of IBSA, one of the minds behind the “Sailing into the Future. Together“, through which the pharmaceutical company IBSA (founded in Lugano in 1945 and now present with its products in more than 90 countries on 5 continents) supports sailing aimed at people with disabilities (para sailing) in Italy and internationally.

It does so in concrete ways, donating boats and helping to train qualified staff to manage inclusive sailing activities within sailing clubs. That’s why Pisani, 77, a lifelong sailor, is the right person to talk about sailing and inclusion.

*Giorgio Pisani, 77, vice president of the pharmaceutical company IBSA, has been boating all his life. The son of a former Navy officer, he has been sailing since childhood and is the owner of an Irwin 52, a 1989 split-rigged ketch that he has passionately restored. He also had a Dufour 12000 CT, a Barberis 421, an Albsail 39 and a Comet 888. He is very familiar with sailing and believes it is a perfect vehicle for social inclusion. That’s why it decided to get into the field with IBSA by promoting Para Sailing activities with the three-year project “Sailing into the Future. Together.”

Dr. Pisani Let’s start right away with a pivotal question. In your opinion, what does “inclusion” mean?

“I will explain how we decided to reach you. With the project “Sailing into the Future. Together,” we have taken action to attract to the world of sailing people who currently perceive it as an unattainable activity, due to disabilities of various kinds.

We experience sailing as a form of “challenging” between the person, the individual and nature. Because sailing puts you in direct and immediate contact with the elements, that’s beyond question: whether it’s the sea, the wind, the weather. Those with disabilities have a different sensitivity precisely with regard to nature, because they perceive it, feel it in a different way than the able-bodied.

Sailing and Inclusion - 1
Hansa 303s donated by IBSA to the Punta Ala Yacht Club on their first sailing.

And precisely because sailing is contact with nature and dealing with situations that require and sharpen your sensitivity, we believe that a handicapped person is able, on board a boat, to handle the situation even better than able-bodied people. IBSA’s goal, with “Sailing into the Future. Together,” is to raise awareness of as many sailing centers and yacht clubs as possible, on a national and international scale, thereby attracting more people with disabilities to sailing-a new world where activity, both sporting and recreational, is certainly more equal. We talk about para sailing, although in my opinion sailing is a discipline that by its inherent nature puts everyone on the same level, allowing comparison between able-bodied people and people with disabilities, without differences.”

Sailing is inherently inclusive, true. In Italy, where do you think “more can be given,” in terms of sailing as a means for social inclusion?

“There is a lack of active promotion and awareness that is conveyed at the institutional level and not just spontaneously by companies that want to be present on the ground in a proactive and socially oriented way. I must say that the Italian Sailing Federation, thanks to President Francesco Ettorre, is moving in this direction in a truly commendable way. We found a perfect partner.”

IBSA’s support of the FIV Para Sailing Academy is just one of the many ongoing projects in your plan. How does it articulate, concretely, even internationally?

“Our first intervention is to meet, from an economic point of view, all the clubs that are potentially active in the world of inclusive sailing and para sailing but that, in fact, do not have the financial availability to purchase dedicated boats nor do they have qualified personnel, the so-called “monitors,” trained to be able to manage the sailing activities of the handicapped.

So, first, we donated Hansa 303s (boats set up for sailing by people with disabilities, ed.) to clubs that were particularly keen on inclusive sailing.

We have purchased four boats for the Punta Ala Yacht Club in Italy, the Société des Regates d’Antibes in France, and collaborate with the Velabili Association in Lugano, Switzerland. In addition, we purchased an RS Venture for the activities of Circolo Vela Bellano, the club for which Alberto Bona also races the Class40 IBSA and which promotes inclusive sailing activities through the Vele a Colori foundation.

The RS Venture Connect that IBSA donated to Circolo Vela Bellano, which is very active in inclusive sailing.

Our support is not limited to boats. As anticipated, we are also able to sponsor and cover the training costs of the monitors. Our goal is, from next year, to also invest in other countries where we find sailing centers that are open and sympathetic to this kind of philosophy. Think of Mediterranean countries like Greece and Spain or lake-rich nations like Germany….”

How did the idea of providing support for inclusive sailing come about?

“There is one person in particular who gave me the first idea, who pushed me to get into the field with IBSA. He was my high school classmate and dear friend, who passed away last year. Lawyer Roberto Fusco, for several years president of the Punta Ala Marina, where I keep my boat (the Irwin 52 “SinSations,” ed.).”

sailing and inclusion
IBSA’s “flag” athlete is Alberto Bona, who is doing very well in the Ocean with his Class40 and is always at the top of the international rankings.

Has there been any incident in this first year and a half that has made you particularly proud of the project you have set up?

“I can tell you two that struck me from the emotional side, the most important one (rationality is needed, but emotion is the vital feeling that gives the stimulus, right?). The first moment concerns the boat handover ceremony in Punta Ala: the Hansas came out with monitors and kids with disabilities that were also quite serious. The second episode I experienced in Antibes, where I saw with my own eyes a 14-year-old armless boy who, with the help of the monitor, was able to complete a normal triangle course on his Hansa without difficulty. Reading the satisfaction on the boys’ faces, on the ground, you understand that the path you have decided to take is the right one.”

Let’s talk a little bit about the agreement with the IVF…

“We have signed a three-year partnership agreement with Para Sailing Academy, the Italian Sailing Federation’s project created in collaboration with CONI, Comitato Italiano Paralimpico (CIP) and World Sailing (the World Sailing Federation, ed.). A sort of “tour of Italy” where boats stop for a month at various clubs around the peninsula during which monitors, sailing instructors, are trained, “qualifying” them for para sailing and to teach sailing to the motor or visually handicapped (sound buoys that mark the routes come to our aid in this case). Specialized instructors are the key. Without them, it is not easy to fully enter the project. If we can build a network of international monitors, we will have helped create something that was not there before, and that, it must be said, is also a new professional figure.”

Sailing and Inclusion - 3
The IBSA Cup 2023 was held on Lake Lugano and involved 150 sailors including Optimist, Laser and Hansa 303.

But there is more. There are also IBSA “branded” events…

“The latest was the IBSA Regatta in Antibes, a regatta for young people with disabilities between the ages of 12 and 17, organized in cooperation with the Société des Régates d’Antibes, on the Hansa 303. In August, on the other hand, there was the IBSA Cup, in Lugano, aimed at boats, belonging to different sailing classes-including Optimist, Laser, and Hansa 303-for a total of about 150 participants.

Sailing and Inclusion - 5
Athletes from the Velabili Association, which IBSA supports as part of the Circolo Velico Lago di Lugano, at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, won one gold and one bronze.

Among those entered in the competition were athletes from the Velabili Association, which works within the Lake Lugano Sailing Club to help children with disabilities. And next years it will be repeated, even in Italy… These events are nothing but the tangible materialization of our project to raise awareness and broaden the base of inclusive sailing. That is why we aim to make more.”


Focus – Sailing & Inclusion. The para sailing world

Para sailing is the term for sailing practiced by athletes with disabilities. Sailing was a Paralympic sport until 2015, when it was removed from the Paralympic sports program Tokyo 2020. And that is unfortunate, because there are as many as 41 active nations on five continents in Paralympic classes and 630 active para athletes registered with World Sailing.

One of the goals of the Para Sailing Academy promoted by FIV (and supported by IBSA). is to lobby for sailing to return to the Paralympic Games program, if not in 2028 for 2032 in Brisbane, Australia. Here we tell you, in brief, about the five most important classes used specifically for para sailing.

Sailing and inclusion, the five “key” classes

Sailing and inclusion - 2.4 mR

2.4 mR. Created in Stockholm in 1983 and designed by Peter Norlin, the 2.4 mR (4.18 x 0.72 m) is the most famous and classic of boats for athletes with disabilities. is bulbous, cannot scuff, and is helmed while sitting in the cockpit amidships by a convenient lever.

Sailing and Inclusion - Sonar

Sonar. Sonar (7.01 x 1.20 m) was designed by Bruce Kirby (the daddy of the Laser) in 1980. is a keelboat class that can have a crew of three. The cockpit is very large and some devices such as a swivel seat for the helmsman can be installed there.

Sailing and Inclusion - Skud18

Skud18. The Skud18 (5.80 x 2.20 m), a former Paralympic double keelboat, is a design by Chris Mitchell and Julian Bethwaite (the father of skiffs, acrobatic dinghies such as the 29r and 49er): it can be led by crews of two or three people. Is a true superfast boat adapted for para sailing. The cockpit contains space for the centerline seat.

Sailing and Inclusion - Hansa 303

Hansa 303. An “inclusive” class par excellence (designed in 2003 by Chris Mitchell and named Access 303), the Hansa 303 (3.03 x 1.35 m) is a perfect boat for sailing schools. You can sail in it with two people but also alone, and the low seat, combined with the ballasted centreboard, make the boat virtually non-tippable.

Sailing and Inclusion - RS VENTURE CONNECT

RS Venture. In its “Connect” version (4.90 x 2.00 m), it has a keel and solutions designed to be comfortably driven by two handicapped persons seated on paired middle seats. It has a self-draining cockpit and an easy dual helm control system via a lever in front of the seats.

Edited by Eugenio Ruocco

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