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Published on August 2nd, 2021
Outside of the wealthy, established sailing nations, getting into sailing can be hard. Breaking into Olympic sailing is much, much harder, especially if you come from a country with no real background or grass-roots interest in the sport.
Since 2015 World Sailing’s Emerging Nations Programme (ENP), with IOC Olympic Solidarity support, has been working hard to bring young sailors through the sport to the point where they are able to compete on the world’s greatest stage.
At Tokyo 2020 there are eight ENP sailors taking part in the Olympic Sailing Competition, two in the Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7and six in the Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6.
Heading up the ENP is World Sailing Training Delivery Manager, Rob Holden from South Africa, who is coaching Deizy Nhaquile (MOZ) from Mozambique in the ILCA 6. She has finished 40th overall at her first Games, the emphasis being on ‘first’.
“I’m hoping Deizy will compete at three Games,” he says. “This one has been all about the learning experience, but if she carries on the way she’s going, perhaps a Medal Race by 2028 is achievable.”
With that said, Holden is not about the medals and the hard results. It’s more what Nhaquile and the other Olympic participants can create in terms of a legacy. “To see them come through the ranks and eventually come here, that’s really exciting to see. And it’s emotional for me.”
Holden has worked with Nhaquile since 2016. “She’s from quite a poor home in Mozambique. She learned to sail through her local club, and she got into Optimist and she’s actually won six African Optimist Championships, which is exceptionally good.
“She’s really dedicated sailor who we noticed is willing to work. We’ve invested and supported her training, although it’s been hard to get her up to weight for the Radial (ILCA 6). We’ve been working on her nutrition and physical fitness, as well as her technical things like how to start on a busy start line against such a hot fleet.”
Rose-Lee Numa from Papua New Guinea says being part of the ENP has been a life-changing experience. “It has boosted my morale to keep on sailing because I’m coming from a country like mine. There’s not much sailing going on there, so you have to stay interested in a sport like ours, which is kind of difficult.
“For me the ENP has been amazing, I’ve met so many cool people from around the world. And now to be at the Olympics, it’s mind blowing. I still can’t get over the fact that I’m here. We are at the Olympics!”
Khouloud Mansy from Egypt (EGY) adds, “I had barely done any international racing before the Youth Olympics. The Emerging Nations program has given me all these international opportunities, and now here we are at Tokyo 2020.”
Mansy’s Egyptian team mate in the ILCA 7 is Aly Badawy, who at 20 years old is the youngest competitor in the event. “In our country, it’s not easy to participate in international competitions like the Youth Worlds. A scholarship from the Emerging Nations programme helped me to explore this world, and now here I am. To race against the big boys is incredible.”
While Badawy is focused on his own career, he also hopes to inspire others from Egypt and other emerging nations. “A great way to do it would be to try to get on to the Emerging Nations Programme and like, sail hard. If you have a dream, just believe it, because I had a dream to qualify for the Olympics at a really young age. A lot of people didn’t believe it would happen. But I kept on going and now the dream has come true.”
Holden says that while the Emerging Nations Programme is very specific to performance sailing, what he is really hoping for is a trickle down effect from the Olympics to be the catalyst to much greater growth of the sport at grass-roots level.
“I would like to see the countries that are involved in the ENP to develop a lot of access to sailing for people in the country. If you can build the recreational base of sailing, that’s good for everyone, and it creates more athletes aiming for performance sailing.
“If one day there are ten girls in Mozambique competing to get to the Olympic Games, that would be my ultimate dream.”
Holden hopes that sailors like Nhaquile will go back home from Tokyo 2020 to act as ambassadors for the programme and also for the wider sport.
“I’m working specifically with Deizy and her National Olympic Committee. We are training her slowly to become a coach as well. So she will be working with some of the younger talent in Mozambique as well as doing the training herself. She’s very keen to give back.
“But I think these young sailors don’t realize the impact they have on the people below them. And I’m trying to reinforce that because I’m saying to them: ‘you are here, whether you sail well or badly, it doesn’t matter because you are here, you are impacting other people, and that’s a responsibility you carry.’ Getting that point across to these sailors is important.”
Nethra Kumanan (IND) is naturally shy, and focused on her own campaign, but accepts the ambassador aspect of her role. “It feels like a lot to carry on my shoulders, but I’m glad it’s not just me, but the four of us from India that qualified to come here.
“The Olympics brings a lot of attention to sailing. In India most people don’t know what it is, still don’t know. They don’t know the difference between sailing or rowing. But awareness and interest improving. It is really, really nice. And a lot of kids are starting to say it’s pretty cool to see and we hope to push the message as much as we can.”
For Holden, his role in helping to create opportunities for these young sailors will never get old.
“Working with these kids is just… well, the reward is massive, you know, and we’re not just talking about the sailors that get to the Olympics.
“The number of children that are back home in Mozambique that come and sail every day and absolutely love it, – it takes them out of the difficult circumstances and gives them new opportunities, gives them new vision. When we’re taking kids to the Youth World Championships and getting them out of the country for the first time, it’s an eye-opening moment for them.
“We brought a young guy from Tanzania to Portugal for the Youth World Championships, and he walked into the breakfast room at the hotel but he was just sitting there. And I went over to him and I said, ‘what’s the problem? Get yourself some food.’ But he was just so overwhelmed by the amount of food in front of him because it was a huge buffet.
“He comes from a home where they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This food could feed his village and he was totally overwhelmed by this different world and what opportunities lie out there if a young sailor grasps them. Those opportunities are very special. And for me personally, it’s amazing to be part of their journey.”
ENP Sailors at Tokyo 2020:
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Nethra Kumanan – India
Deizy Nhaquile – Mozambique
Khouloud Mansy – Egypt
Rose-Lee Numa – Papua New Guinea
Jalese Gordon – Antigua
Sophia Morgan – Fiji
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Aly Badawy – Egypt
Teariki Numa – Papua New Guinea
Race schedule is staggered for the ten sailing events from July 25 to August 4.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021
Source: World Sailing