Liam Morgan ©ITG

The year 2016 was notorious for surprise results. It was the year where many polls were found to be wayward and where the form book was well and truly ripped up.

We had Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in a bitter referendum where many thought the country would remain. Then, a few months later, the planet was stunned once more when Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in the United States Presidential Election to become the most powerful man in the free world.

In terms of sport, who could forget Leicester City defying the odds to claim the Premier League title, representing one of the greatest-ever sporting achievements and one which may never be surpassed in terms of its sheer improbability.

The sports politics arena, which has been thrust into the limelight in recent years amid the revelations of a state-sponsored doping scheme in Russia, was no different, with one of the biggest shocks coming at an election in the beautiful Spanish city of Barcelona which largely flew under the radar.

Denmark’s Kim Andersen was an unexpected challenger to Carlo Croce for the Presidency of World Sailing. His announcement in September that he was standing was greeted with more than a few raised eyebrows.

Slowly but surely, however, he built up support within the membership and, by the time the date of the vote arrived, he harboured a genuine belief that he could become the first candidate to unseat an incumbent in the organisation’s 110-year history.

Neither Andersen nor the Italian secured the required majority in round one, with the Dane collecting 44 and Croce only one behind on 43. Canada’s Paul Henderson, who served as President from 1994 to 2004, bowed out with a lowly 11 votes.

A second round was therefore needed to separate the two and decide the destination of the Presidency. In a dramatic result, Andersen emerged victorious as 52 Member National Associations (MNAs) ticked his box, six more than Croce had managed. History had been made. A new era was initiated.

Kim Andersen was elected World Sailing President in November ©World Sailing
Kim Andersen was elected World Sailing President in November ©World Sailing

“I would say you don’t go in to an election without believing yourself that you have a fair chance of winning, but having said that there were so many odds against it because normally you don’t change the seat of the President after four years,” Andersen told insidethegames.

“For me, it was pretty obvious that when I was listening to the MNAs that were supporting me that they thought I would be a good candidate for implementing what they wanted to see and how they would like to see the sport develop.

“I never stopped believing that this was possible, but at election day you never know which way it is going to go. That is pretty exciting.

“Having said that, I have never been to a World Sailing election despite being involved for over 20 years because politics wasn’t that important for me – I was more interested in doing something.

“Now suddenly I am in my first election and I am taking part, that was pretty strange.”

Onlookers with little knowledge of the sport and of World Sailing would have thought the outcome pretty strange, too. In the lead-up to election day, however, the mood for major change within the organisation was growing.

Croce, elected President in 2012 when the governing body were called the International Sailing Federation, had become somewhat of a divisive figure within the sport. His decision-making was consistently questioned during his four-year tenure in charge and he was heavily criticised by both Henderson and Andersen prior to election day.

The 59-year-old from Copenhagen went as far as saying someone needed to right the boat which was sinking under the Italian while he also took aim at the lack of transparency – a key theme in his own manifesto and one he now hopes to implement – concerning the choice of Russian company Gazprom as a main World Sailing sponsor.

Andersen had used the timing of the announcement that the sailing event programme at Tokyo 2020 would not be altered after all, despite Croce intimating a vote would be held to "unlock" the the decision taken in 2012 to keep the same Olympic events from the 2016 Games to the 2020 Games, as another stick to beat the Italian with before the electorate took to the polls to cast their vote.

Three days in advance of the election, a World Sailing statement was released, which read: "The President, Carlo Croce, with the support of all Board members, has decided, following his most recent communications with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that he, as President, shall not propose an alternative Olympic slate to Council in February 2017.

“This means that World Sailing would propose the existing 10 events and equipment for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic sailing competition."

Kim Andersen spoke enthusiastically about his plans for World Sailing to insidethegames ©TSE
Kim Andersen spoke enthusiastically about his plans for World Sailing to insidethegames ©TSE

The statement prompted Andersen, then the head of the Equipment Committee, to accuse his rival of causing a situation plagued with “unnecessary chaos” in the sailing family. He may have been a surprise contender, but he certainly knew how to play the game.

When asked about his first few months in the job, Andersen could also not resist the opportunity to have a dig at his predecessor.

“There were a lot of things left [from the previous regime] and were not well prepared, decisions like the relocation of the office, hiring new staff and making a plan for them,” he said.

“First of all, dealing with everything that needed to be exercised very quickly and a lot of things concerning the Olympics – things like the format and the gender equity which was still to be decided before the end of February. Being new in the job, it gives you a lot of challenges.

“I think we have managed quite well up until now but now we can get into a mode where we are better in co-operating and operating. That is the nature of the game and that is why I was elected.”

Unsurprisingly, the debate around the Tokyo 2020 Olympic sailing programme featured heavily during our sit-down in his native Denmark, where the vastly-experienced businessman came across as both interesting and difficult to read in equal measure.

Optimism was high amid a belief that World Sailing will now be steered towards calmer waters under his leadership. He also demonstrated his astuteness in adhering to the desires and demands of the IOC when discussing what we could expect from the sport at the Games in the Japanese capital.

“We are maintaining the Olympic events as they are, with the classes, but we are fulfilling the IOC’s wish of having gender equity,” he said.

“There will not be gender equity in the medals or disciplines but we are having it in the participation.

“The logic behind that is that in our sport, like any other sport, there is a big difference between men’s and women’s participation now. We have used the equality leverage to get more women into some of the classes so we can train and coach them.

“We think we can create a faster development for women to get into our sport this way than by giving them more medals."

The sailing programme at Tokyo 2020 is set to be almost an exact replica of Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
The sailing programme at Tokyo 2020 is set to be almost an exact replica of Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

While the programme itself will virtually be an exact replica to that at last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Andersen did confirm they had submitted a proposal to the IOC to include a demonstration event alongside the official races.

The current vice-president of leading construction and civil engineering company MT Højgaard Group also refused to rule out changes in the future. Among the current possibilities is the introduction of a long distance event – sailing’s equivalent of the marathon.

“You have to look at the equipment, the qualification – you have to look at all of these things, which we haven’t done yet,” said Andersen.

“There are many questions when it comes to new events. What type of equipment should you use for long distance? Should it be a mixed event? This is a good idea.

“You also need to think about what size of boat are you using and what is the availability of these boats worldwide. So there are plenty of details to be looked at."

Another element of the existing programme which World Sailing are currently reviewing is the medal race format, a popular bone of contention among the sport’s athletes over the years. Some feel sailors being awarded double points for the last event is unfair, while the governing body are wary there are too many Olympic titles being decided before the event itself draws to a close, which detracts from the overall spectacle.

Ways in which to negate this issue have already been trialled. World Sailing tested a new three-heat, single points medal race at the 2017 edition of the annual Trofeo Princesa Sofia, held in Palma de Mallorca in Spain last month. Expect more work to be done in this area in the coming months and years.

“There is a lot of history around that and people are looking into that, maybe looking at the scoring system or the format that we are doing and that is still up to the Events Committee. They will have some discussions around that,” Andersen, who was part of the management team with the Danish Olympic squad from 1992 to 2002, said.

“In one of the Olympic classes, the Finn class, they have tested a new event where you had a round-robin race and then you had a semi-final.

“First and second place went straight into the final and then there was a race sailed as a semi-final to fill the last three places in a five-boat final. There are some things getting tested now.

“Having said that, at the Olympics, in some of the classes you had people going out in the gold medal position and coming in at number four. So I think you can say the medal race has its faults but it's not all that bad.

“If an athlete is really so good that he is winning all the races it is probably fair that he is winning the gold medal before the last race.

“The thing we have gained with the medal races is that everyone knows that if they are there on that day, they will see a medal race and they will see that medal presented.”

Paralympic sailing made its last appearance at the Games in Rio after being axed from the Tokyo 2020 programme ©Getty Images
Paralympic sailing made its last appearance at the Games in Rio after being axed from the Tokyo 2020 programme ©Getty Images

It is not long before our conversation veers back towards Tokyo 2020. This time it is the Paralympics which are the focal point as Andersen, who served as a member of the World Sailing Council between 2000 and 2008, reflects on the blow dealt to the sport by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) back in January 2015.

Sailing was rocked by the announcement that Para sailing had been cut from the programme, largely due to a failure to fulfil minimum criteria for worldwide reach. Disappointment and devastation were prominent parts of the lexicon divulged by the governing body in the immediate aftermath as they struggled to come to terms with the ramifications of the decision.

Their response was one of defiance. First, they went about pursuing reinstatement at the earliest possible opportunity. When the door was shut on 2020, they turned their attention to regaining their Paralympic place in 2024 with the launch of a Para World Sailing strategic plan.

Subsequent meetings with the IPC have been described as positive and productive. Andersen, who a keen advocate of the Paralympic discipline of the sport, is confident their bid for re-inclusion at the 2024 Games will be successful. He knows, however, that the work is only just beginning.

“We are doing what we failed to do last time and what we are going to do moving forward is very much in synchronisation with what is needed and what the Paralympics want to see,” he said.

“We are already expecting the keel class to have enough nations to fill in the qualifications which is necessary as a minimum requirement for the Paralympics.

“Many of the boxes we need to tick off we can already tick off this year and then we have a plan to grow further.

“Just reaching the minimum criteria is not enough for sailing - we would like to really expand Para sailing.

“More importantly, up until recently Para sailing was a separate issue but now Para sailing is part of World Sailing. We have totally merged.

“It was a huge wake-up call that you should never take anything for granted and once you start doing that you are probably not as sharp as you could be.

“We have had this experience and we cannot change it, all we can do is learn from it and be better in progressing our sport as a Paralympic sport, which we are doing now.

“So I am very sure once we get in it will not happen again.”

The World Sailing President is targeting a seat at the IOC table for his organisation ©Twitter
The World Sailing President is targeting a seat at the IOC table for his organisation ©Twitter

Such buoyancy seems to be a characteristic of the Dane, who speaks two other languages – English and German - aside from his native tongue. He had an air of confidence about him irrespective of the questions he was being asked, although some of his answers were tinged with more than a hint of business jargon. With his Presidency in its infancy, Andersen was clearly reticent to stray from the party line and attempted to stick close to home wherever possible.

While there is nothing wrong with being optimistic, there is a danger of leaning too far towards the unrealistic. When asked what challenges he faces going forward, Andersen replied: “I don’t see many challenges - I just see so much more we can do.”

A throwaway line, perhaps, but one that still warrants further scrutiny considering the obstacles the sport is likely to come up against on the road to Tokyo and beyond.

It is fair to say sailing is still fighting to guarantee its Olympic place with each passing edition of the Games and, as Andersen has identified, broadening the reach of the sport into different countries and territories simply has to be a priority if it is to cement its place in the sporting landscape.

Not only that, but Paralympic reinstatement is a tough ask. They may be “ticking all the boxes” as Andersen says but the path to 2024 remains one fraught with obstacles and hurdles.

Let us not also forget the row over kiteboarding, which looked to have been put to bed with a “landmark” partnership with the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA) and the Global Kitesports Association (GKA) but has threatened to rear its ugly head once more recently with the news that the International Federation of Kitesports Organization (IFKO) are rumoured to be mulling over an application for membership of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF).

The not-for-profit IFKO see kiteboarding as a sport within its own right and their stance could spark further friction with World Sailing. It is a potential problem Andersen could do without.

For now, the keen sailor, golfer and skier is quietly going about implementing the pledges he made in his election manifesto. In another reference to the faults of the previous regime, the World Sailing head is targeting improved governance and transparency – a popular IOC buzzword - as one of his main goals and ambitions.

A Mid-Year Meeting at the Fairmont Hotel in Singapore from May 5 to 9, where the results of an MNA survey are to be discussed, will provide the first gauge of his progress.

Kim Andersen, far right, is targeting a seat at the IOC table for World Sailing ©Twitter
Kim Andersen, far right, is targeting a seat at the IOC table for World Sailing ©Twitter

“There should be more transparency in the governance of the organisation to make the decision-making process more transparent. This is a huge task – just the word transparency means so many different things to many different people,” Andersen said.

“When people are saying to me that I am not transparent then sometimes they do not understand the issue or sometimes that I have not explained it well enough - but it does not mean the issue is not transparent.

“If you don’t see the whole face, then of course it cannot be transparent. If the board want to discuss something before they publicise it, is that transparent or not transparent?

“This was part of my campaign and is still part of what I want to achieve but it still has a lot of complexities when you are looking around the world and when you are looking at how it is perceived in America compared to Europe. There is a big difference in what is the value of the word transparency.

“If you are going to middle east and far east, again it is a different value proposition, so that is one of the major issues that I am working on.”

Another target, although not as high on the priority list as some of the others, is getting World Sailing a seat at the IOC table. Croce was never a member, although the previous three Presidents before him - Sweden's Göran Petersson, Henderson and Finland's Peter Tallberg - were all part of sport's most exclusive club at one point.

Sailing has a deep tradition within the IOC. Tallberg, President of the worldwide governing body from 1986 to 1994, was the second-longest serving IOC member at the time of his death in May 2015 at the age of 77 having been elected in 1976.

"When I was elected President, it was for World Sailing and I just want to make a difference," said Andersen.

"I think for World Sailing, as an International Federation (IF) it is very important to be part of the IOC. If we can promote that, we can have a role.

"We can support the IOC in any way and if they feel the same, then yes definitely we would like to have a seat in the IOC to develop our sport together with all the other Olympic sports."

With the changing of the guard in any IF comes an uncertainty as to what the future might hold and while the winds of change have not quite swept through World Sailing just yet, there is clear intent from Andersen to divert the organisation towards more tranquil times.

Some of Andersen's objectives may appear overly ambitious and perhaps unlikely. However, he seems intent on achieving them and, just like during his election campaign, he genuinely believes he can be successful.

If he manages to elevate sailing to the top echelon of world sport and to the level he always hoped, it would be yet another example of an underdog having its day. It would be naïve to write him off just yet - after all, stranger things have happened.