By Rob Kothe
Two candidates are looking to unseat incumbent President Carlo Croce at tomorrow's World Sailing Presidential elections at the 2016 annual conference being staged at the Renaissance Hotel in Barcelona, Spain.
Carlo Croce, is the seventh President of Sailing’s peak body since 1946. His Father Beppe was President from 1969 to 1985. In 2012 upon the retirement of Sweden’s Göran Petersson, Carlo stood and defeated Eric Tulla of Puerto Rico and David Kellett from Australia.
Nominated by 45 Member Nation Authorities (MNA’s), early in this campaign it was assumed 71-year-old Croce would be unbeatable, but two vocal contenders mounted challenges.
Paul Henderson, the Pope, the 1994-2004 President who was succeeded by Petersson, is campaigning on a limited number of issues but 57-year-old Kim Andersen, the well-regarded ISAF Equipment Committee Chairman launched a full-blown challenge.
Slow progress, inadequate communication and lack of transparency have been the core elements challengers have raised.
Kim Andersen said today ‘My vision was put forth with the best interest of sailing, it has a strong focus on three key issues: enhancing our Olympic status, ensuring our growth and developing a governance structure that is fit for purpose. These areas require a strong leader who can move our sport forward but even more important is that all of this requires an open line of communication with all MNAs so that together we can make sailing stronger.
‘The time to make this change is now.
‘With so many challenges accumulating over the years, we cannot afford to wait another four years to progress our sport. We need to start achieving short-term goals now so that our MNAs can begin to feel the impact of change already in the coming year, with a positive base in place we can then continue with the long-term plans that will drive our sport forward beyond 2020.
‘Sailing has the potential to be a sport for all generations and across all regions, and now is the time to start fulfilling it.’
But Croce is fighting back. Issue by issue. In the first session of the Council yesterday he took advantage of his Presidential role to launch a long impassioned plea for more time, saying the Sport needed evolution not revolution.
In response, the two challengers asked today for time to address the Council but as of this Election eve, it appears they will not be given that opportunity. We shall see tomorrow.
One of the regular criticisms of Croce has been his unwillingness to talk to the media. But early this morning Croce spent 40 minutes talking to this scribe.
He was straight to the key issues. ‘Lack of progress. A major setback for our progress over the last four years has been in the transition from having a Secretary-General to having a CEO. We needed to do that if the organisation was to grow and prosper.
‘In the old days, the sports peak body was more like a club.
In my father’s time, there were just 22 nations and now we have 148 and this means we must face the fact that many nations have different cultures and actions and needs and are at different stages of development.
‘One of the problems that has been over the years is the decision-making structure and in recent times as the organisation has grown we are faced with hundreds of submissions.
‘Many of the submissions are in fact opposite of the direction that the organization has already said it wants to go in and that has paralysed the council discussions it seems for a long period. ‘The system we have to change is very complicated. If the Board votes to make a change, it goes to the relevant Committee, often with the Committee nominating a working party and then the process can be protracted but finally it comes back to the board and we find its different to what we wanted.
‘We have to change the complex system; the problem is to determine how best to restructure it.
‘So we needed an outstanding CEO to work with the Board and I set out to find the right person. First up, our long-time Secretary-General Jerome Pels asked for the chance to take the big step forward but he and we soon realised it was not for him and he moved on in October 2014.
‘We appointed a professional group to help us find the CEO, they delivered a very sophisticated, maybe too sophisticated, system of head hunting. ' ‘Time passed and Peter Sowrey, their first choice joined us in May 2015. He came from a simpler business background, he had strong opinions but we thought in the beginning it was just a matter of us getting used to each other but after five months we realised he was not the man for us.
‘We went back again to head hunting and then Andy Hunt turned up at the beginning of 2016 and yes he can be a strong voice but he has been very good for the organisation and we are working extremely well as a team.
‘But there is no denying that we lost a lot of time.
‘And our communications with our key stakeholders, the MNA’s suffered.
‘I know that personally I am not a good communicator so as soon as I took over the Presidency we started producing a monthly report going to the MNA’s back with Jerome Pels, on the work of the Committee etc. but it stopped when he left.
‘I have been keen to resume this and discussed this with Andy Hunt came on board, but the priorities have been getting major governance issues resolved, so our communication with the MNA’s have mostly been about that.
‘With those now done it is my plan that we once again provide regular updates to our stakeholders the MNA’s on the basic work we are doing.
Another nagging issue for Croce is the Gazprom sponsorship. This morning he said ‘There has been criticism within the MNAs about how the Gazprom sponsorship has been handled. I hear the criticism about lack of transparency but I don’t agree.
‘I was approached by the Vice President of the Russian Federation, a stakeholder of World Sailing with a potential sponsorship package for us from the giant Russian Gazprom group. ‘I have been a little angry when I heard negative comments because they are a Russian energy company.
‘In the beginning, he wanted it confidential, it had to go thru a lot of offices and bureau processes and besides when we start the negotiation you don’t want to go out there and tell everyone we are negotiating.
‘In the end, the sponsor has been there to help World Sailing at every turn, a lot of money has flowed into our programs and we have had a great result for the Emerging Nations.
‘In fact Croce nominated the achievement he was proudest of during his four year at the helm, Croce said ‘The Emerging nations program. We invested about 550,000 Pounds sterling in that program, because of the Russian sponsorship.
‘Increasing our number of our nations is one of the most important targets of both IOC and World Sailing. That has been done, I think, in a good way, and we have had good results. ‘For sailors from the Emerging Nations program to reach the Olympics has been a fantastic achievement for us.
‘Our stakeholders have now realised we have been working hard with the IOC to deliver the best possible package for the Olympic, after discussions with them we were able to move back, this week from the less than ideal complete rejig of our Olympic equipment.
‘380 sailors are the magic number and we have realised by taking small numbers from each Olympic class fleet, we will have the space for an 11th Class and the memorandum we have signed with the two key Kite Barding organisations will enable us to propose Foiling Kite sailing and at the same time produce an exciting extra dimension to our Olympic sailing.
‘Then again staying with 380 sailors is the opportunity for a mixed gender one design offshore race.
‘That is an option I am dreaming about for a long time as that would be the only way what sailors could get to measure any other sports and we could make heroes out of this but it is only Carlo’s dream. It is something that must pass through the committees and come to the Council again.
‘It is not something that is easy to achieve maybe we can we don’t know but we could do at least could be in Tokyo to have this event as a demonstration show case event with high hopes for the future.’
And so, to the Presidential Election and Board Elections, expected around 11am Barcelona time Sunday 13th November 2016.
We will bring you a full report on proceeding with comments from winners and losers.
We all hope that our Sport is the largest winner of them all.