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Olympic 2012: Sailing federation hit by legal row

By Stina Backer, CNN
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Tue August 7, 2012
In May 2012 the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) decided that windsurfing would not be included in the Rio 2016 Olympics, to be replaced by kiteboarding. The windsurfing body International RS:X Class Association decided to increase the pressure on the ISAF by taking it to court. In May 2012 the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) decided that windsurfing would not be included in the Rio 2016 Olympics, to be replaced by kiteboarding. The windsurfing body International RS:X Class Association decided to increase the pressure on the ISAF by taking it to court.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Windsurfing made its Olympic debut in 1984 for men and 1992 for women
  • In May 2012 it was announced that kiteboarding would replace windsurfing in the Olympics
  • The International RS:X Class Association calls the decision "perverse and unfair"

Editor's note: MainSail is CNN's monthly sailing show, exploring the sport of sailing, luxury travel and the latest in design and technology.

London, England (CNN) -- Windsurfers took to the sea Tuesday for what could be the last time in an Olympic Games if the International Sailing Federation gets its way.

In May 2012 the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) decided that windsurfing -- which made its Olympic debut in 1984 -- would not be included in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Instead, it is set to be replaced by kiteboarding, a younger and faster sport that is growing in popularity. It was a close vote, but one that went 19-17 in favor of kiteboarding.

Read more: Kiteboarding -- Meet future champions of newest Olympic sport

However, the windsurfers are fighting back with legal action and online petitions against the ISAF. The International RS:X Class Association -- the international windsurfing body -- lodged a request at the High Court in London for a judicial review into ISAF's decision, which it calls "perverse and unfair."

"We took legal advice early on and their advice was that we had a good case, and on that basis we decided to go ahead," said Rory Ramsden, the windsurfing body's executive secretary.

The ISAF swiftly issued a statement saying it was "extremely disappointed" that this course of action has been taken and that it "intends to fully defend" its decision to make kiteboarding an Olympic class, which it says was taken in line with its regulations.

Kiteboarding: The birth of a new sport
Kiteboarding's healthy rivalry

In May ISAF's President Göran Petersson said the decision marked a "new era for sailing" and that kiteboarding had fulfilled the criteria set out by the organization's evaluation panel.

"Kiteboarding has proven to us that it is ready to be included into the list of prestigious ISAF Events and it is a fantastic addition to the sailing program for the 2016 Olympic Games," he added.

Read more: Weymouth -- Olympic sailing on Jurassic Coast

Few, including the kiteboarders themselves, expected such a result.

On hearing the news Britain's top windsurfer, Nick Dempsey, tweeted: "Wow, unexpected. That was a big decision and a very sad day for windsurfing."

Dempsey won bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the RS:X class, and silver in Tuesday's Olympic windsurfing final in Weymouth. But at 31 it is also likely to be his last Games.

Bob Ingram, the chair of the UK Windsurfing Association said that ISAF's decision was met by "both anger and sadness" in the windsurfing community.

"We really didn't expect it," he said. "There are a lot of people who have dedicated a lot of their lives to windsurfing and to see it all being pulled from under us is very, very sad."

He added: "You only have to look at the windsurfing going on at the Olympics right now to see that it is a spectacular and a dynamic sport that is media friendly and has a global following."

The International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) said in a statement that it was "shocked" by the decision to take legal action against the ISAF.

The chairman of IKA, Richard Gowers, said: "I think it's a grave mistake. To launch a legal action in the middle of the Olympics is not only damaging to RS:X but also to the sailing world."

Gowers said that he thinks it is "unfortunate that there are only 10 sailing classes available in the Olympics" and that the IKA never wanted kiteboarding to replace windsurfing.

Read more: London 2012 Olympics -- sailing guide

As an ex windsurfer myself I would love to see both sports featured in the Olympics
Richard Gowers, Chairman of the International Kiteboarding Association

"As an ex-windsurfer myself I would love to see both sports featured in the Olympics. I think board sports should have more of a presence in the Olympics because, at the end of the day, kiteboarding and windsurfing are far more available in developing countries because the entry cost is much less than it is for some of the sailing classes," he added.

The windsurfing lobby argues that kiteboarding lacks a clear pathway from junior to professional level, something that it has worked for years to achieve. Others, like the U.S. Windsurfing blog "saveolympicwindsurfing," argue that kitesurfing simply isn't safe enough at the moment and that "handing a kid a kite is like handing them a loaded gun."

In response to these claims and many others issued by the windsurfing lobby the IKA says it has been forced to issue a document separating fact from fiction about their sport.

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