BEIT YANNAY, Israel, June 18 (Reuters) - Kiteboarding is “10 times more dangerous” that windsurfing and the decision to include the sport in the 2016 Olympics is a big mistake, a leading kitesurfing expert has told Reuters.
The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) announced the decision to include men’s and women’s kiteboarding at the expense of windsurfing last month, describing it as a “fantastic addition” for the 2016 Games.
However, Israel’s Amit Inbar, who runs a kitesurfing school, said the ISAF did not appreciate how dangerous the sport was.
“I think they have made a very big mistake because I think the people at ISAF don’t really understand the implications of the decision ... and the dangers of the sport,” said Inbar.
Inbar, who represented Israel in windsurfering at the Barcelona and Sydney Games, said there was a real possibility of competitors being seriously injured or killed, particularly at race starts, and when battling for position around marker buoys.
“People have died in kitesurfing ... I’m really scared that we are going to see some very bad accidents ... it is 10 times more dangerous than windsurfing,” he added.
Inbar said around 130 people had been killed in the sport worldwide and told how he recovered a kitesurfer’s finger from the beach after it was severed by a kite cord.
“A kite has a lot of energy and there are many things that can go wrong ... if you put 100 kites on a course, the lines in strong winds can be like knives and at the start there are many chances for lines tangle.”
While the decision to raise the profile of kiteboarding was the best thing he could have hoped for in a commercial sense, it would not benefit sailing.
“For me, business wise, it was a magical decision, because for the last 12 years I have been working in and teaching kite surfing, but as a guy who has raced in windsurfing in the Olympics, this was a very poor decision and I really hope it will be changed soon,” he said.
Windsurfing supporters have not given up hope of the decision being reversed at the ISAF annual conference in Ireland in November where a final vote will be taken.
Inbar said the decision to include kiteboarding was based on sailing chiefs’ hopes of making the Olympics more sexy, but he said it would not be the case.
“Kitesurfing at the Olympics will be the same as windsurfing: sailing around markers, no jumping, nothing sexy, or all the crazy stuff kite surfers do ... at the end of the day it will be exactly the same,” he added.
Proponents of kiteboarding said the sport’s visual appeal, portability and accessibility were ideal to get athletes from emerging economies involved.
ISAF Vice President Low Teo Ping told Reuters last month he believed there would be a tremendous boost particularly from the non-traditional sailing countries in Asia.
Israel’s sailing chief Yehuda Maayan, however, said ISAF’s decision to dump windsurfing in favour of kiteboarding came about as a result of an error by the Spanish delegate to the Melbourne meeting where the vote was held last month.
Maayan had told Reuters delegates were probably confused or didn’t understand the motion because of language difficulties.
The Spanish Sailing Federation has since admitted its mistake saying its representative voted in favour of kiteboarding in error. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)