• Matt Allen at the helm of Ichi Ban.Photo Yachting Australia.
    Matt Allen at the helm of Ichi Ban.Photo Yachting Australia.
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The administration of sailing in Australia is “ahead of the curve” but more needs to be done at all levels to get the sport really rocking, according to incoming Yachting Australia President Matt Allen.

In an exclusive interview with Mysailing, Allen talked frankly about plans to make sailing more inclusive and to provide pathways for ALL young sailors, not just those destined for Olympic greatness.

“If you look at sailing today, it’s about the same size as it was 30 years ago,” Allen said. “The sport has changed but it hasn’t grown.”

He said that sailing was “ahead of the curve” with its youth programs, with Tackers and Discover Sailing being rolled out across the country. “We’ve reached critical mass in every state with those programs, but the problem is that most yacht clubs have the same dynamic. The average member is in the older age bracket, there’s a ‘members only’ sign on the gate and a barbed wire fence with broken glass on the top saying ‘keep out’. We have to make sailing more inclusive.”

Growth Plans

The good news, says Allen, is that the next phase of the program is about to start and this should open sailing to a much broader cross-section of the population.

“The Australian Sports Commission is committed to helping the major sports grow and sailing is certainly one of the majors in this country,” Allen said. “One challenge is the complexity of our sport. It’s a lot easier to get someone kicking a footie in a park, but the sailing experience is much more valuable. The Return on Investment (for the ASC) might be higher than it would be on getting people to kick a footie,” said the former merchant banker.

Allen mentioned the CYCA’s Youth Academy as an example of what could happen when clubs invested in youth for the long term. He said that the Academy was started because boat owners were struggling to find crew for offshore racing. “There are very few boats which have a shortage of crew these days, and a lot of the age groups we say we can’t reach – the ones in their 20s and 30s – are very much in evidence on all the top Hobart boats.”

The next phase in promoting sailing is to get pathways for people who aren’t suited to or don’t want to sail the Olympic classes, Allen says. Just as the Tackers program and YA’s elite pathway program is delivering results at Olympic level, pathways will be developed for people wanting to sail multihulls or kites or skiffs or keelboats, or who just want to take part in social sailing and cruising.

“We’re working out the scope at the moment, to give us a better roadmap of where we need to go,” he said, refusing to put a timeline on it until more detail emerges from the scoping. “One of the main themes is getting bums onto gunwales – if we’ve got enough people sailing, the elite will pop up. We’ve got to make the boats on offer cool and fun and the good thing is that there are already boats that are.”

Better Governance

Another area that Matt Allen says needs attention if sailing is to maintain its favoured funding position with the ASC is in the sport’s governance. As former Regional CEO and President of UBS AG Japan and Managing Director of Swiss Bank Corporation in Australia, he is the right man to drive it.

He also has an exceptional CV as a sailor and sailing administrator, having competed in 23 Sydney to Hobart Races, winning a World Championship in the 11 Metre Class and winning the Kings Cup four times. He was Chairman of the Volvo Ocean Race Australian Challenge in 2005/06, Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia from 2007 to 2010 (having his term extended for a year in an unprecedented move, to finish reforms he had started), past treasurer of the International Farr 40 Class, Chairman of the CYCA SOLAS Trusts since 2005 and a director of Yachting Australia since 2011, where he served as Vice President and as a member of the Planning and Finance and Nominations Committee.

Allen says the first thing YA needs to do is to become a company limited by guarantee, which will bring it under the auspices of the Corporations Act, with resulting responsibilities on directors and senior staff.

“We’re in that process now and need to have dialogues with clubs, state associations and classes to work out the right structure.”

Allen says an independent group will lead the discussion and YA is in the process of putting that group together now. “There are a number of things we have to do, but we need to discuss them first by asking the question: ‘What is in the best interests of the sport?’ I’m hoping we can have an intelligent, honest discussion with all the stakeholders.”

Communication

The final area that is receiving a shake-up (and in this writer’s opinion one that is overdue) is in YA’s communications strategy.

“We want to be a much better communicator,” says Allen. “We want to be a good listener but there are also areas where we need to be a leader. (But) We want the sailors to tell us where they want the sport the go.”

It is early days and the ponderous pace of sporting bureaucracy may yet take its toll on this man. But all the signs are good – the sport of sailing in Australia is currently in good hands.

- Roger McMillan

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