London 2012: British sailors concerned by ‘stadium course’

Ben Ainslie and Nick Dempsey warn London 2012 organisers over ticketed area set out for sailing regatta

British medal favourites Ben Ainslie and Nick Dempsey have told London 2012 organisers to not risk their Olympic ambitions for the sake of paying spectators.

For the first time in Olympic history, a ticketed area has been introduced for the sailing regatta with 4,600 pass holders accommodated every day on Nothe Gardens, which overlooks the planned medal race course in Weymouth harbour.

Tickets, which cost up to £55, have already sold out, generating revenue of approximately £250,000 a day for organisers Locog.

But former windsurfing world champion Dempsey and three-time Olympic champion Ainslie have both expressed concerns about the suitability of the inshore course in certain weather conditions.

“The organisers need to be realistic,” said Ainslie, who today joined ten Skandia Team GBR colleagues as the first confirmed athletes in Great Britain’s 550-strong Olympic team.

“In prevailing conditions, the stadium course is not too bad and pretty fair but if the breeze is northerly, you hope they would be sensible and not race there and set a fair race course, even if that is not so close for spectators.

“Sailing is going through a transition, they want more races closer to the shore because maybe that is the future of the sport commercially. But this is the Olympics and the pureness of sport should come first.”

Dempsey claims the decision to compete on the Nothe course during the recent Olympic test regatta cost him the chance of beating key rival Dorian Van Rijsselberge.

In the end, he settled for silver but admits concern that giving spectators value for their money, in the wrong conditions, could turn the Olympic regatta into a lottery.

“The course has got to be fair. It’s not about the spectators, the television audiences and the atmosphere – it’s about providing the best sailing course for those athletes who have worked their entire lives for that moment,” he told national press agency Sportsbeat.

“The stadium course in a prevailing south westerly is great but any north westerly wind direction and it’s a total nightmare, it makes it virtually a lottery and very, very difficult to sail and compete fairly.

“They used us as guinea pigs at the test event and it was horrendous at times. On one day there were 16 recalled starts for two races and that just doesn’t happen.

“Wind was shifting around 90 degrees and I lost the test event that day and I didn’t do anything wrong. That can’t be allowed to happen at the Olympics.”

London 2012 officials, headed by sailing manager Rob Andrews, are currently studying data and feedback compiled during the recent test regatta along with colleagues at ISAF, sailing’s world governing body.

“Having made the decision to charge the audience, the event has to deliver,” Andrews told the Financial Times. “Charging for sailing spectators is a big step and I believe this will challenge both us and change the sport.”

© Sportsbeat 2011

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