By Duncan Mackay

Kiteboarding World_Cup_eventMay 7 - The controversial decision by International Sailing Federation (ISAF) to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has drawn criticism from several countries.

Windsurfing federations have already vowed to pressure ISAF to re-instate the sport, with Britain's Bryony Shaw, Olympic bronze medallist at Beijing's Games, among those supporting an online petition.

John Derbyshire, the racing manager and performance director Royal Yachting Association (RYA), was among most experts who were surprised by the decision taken at the ISAF's mid-year meeting in Stresa, Italy.

"The introduction of kiteboarding, while an exciting prospect for a new discipline, the decision to replace windsurfing with kiteboarding will of course be a huge blow to the windsurfing community, and we're disappointed for all those who are working at the coalface of the RYA's windsurfing programmes to deliver activity and British success on the world stage who will be affected most by this decision," he said.

"Kiteboarding made a solid case for its Olympic inclusion at the March trials and although a surprise that ISAF has voted it into the Olympic programme at this stage, it appears that the Council of ISAF wished to seize the opportunity, rather than wait until 2020.

"This decision will force the pace of change and the RYA is looking forward to the opportunity of working with kiteboarders and the British Kitesurfing Association in order to develop the talent pathway for this new event, and to using the strengths of our UK Sport lottery funded high performance system that has become the envy of the world so that Britain is well-placed to deliver the first Olympic kiteboarding medals in Rio in four years' time."

With this year's Olympics - when the sailing events are due to take place at Weymouth and Portland - marking the last occasion that windsurfing will feature for a while countries are already making plans to launch kiteboarding programmes in time for Rio 2016. 
"Obviously we've got quite a few young sailors in particular who have been campaigning and building a campaign particularly with 2016 in mind and I guess we've been investing via national windsurfing programmes," said Peter Conde, Yachting Australia's high performance director.

"Clearly those sailors are pretty devastated.

"At least at first [glance] it looks like their dreams have been dashed by this decision.

"I guess it remains to be seen as to whether many of those athletes might want to take a fresh look and embrace kiteboarding as a new discipline.

"I guess we'd be encouraging them to look at it."

But Ben Finkelstein, coach of women's Israel world champion Lee Korzits, warned that the switch could ruin windsurfing at grassroots level.

"Professional surfers who decide to make the change will be able to use their skills to adapt but I am much more worried about all the clubs and the less expert, young surfers," he said.

"It is a completely different discipline and if we want to nurture competitors in the new discipline it will mean changing the equipment and that will require a huge outlay."

But not everyone was unhappy about the decision. 

Sir Richard_Branson_kiteboarding
Sir Richard Branson, the chairman of the Virgin Group, who is a keen kiteboarder and who in 2010 attempted to become the oldest person to kitesurf across the English Channel, was among those who had backed the campaign.

"Well we all flew a kite to get kiteboarding in to the Olympics and unbelievably the kite has landed in Rio," he said.

"Kiteboarding is now an Olympic sport.

"To celebrate this, myself, my family and a few friends will this week attempt to kite across the English Channel to show off its beauty."

Markus Schwendtner, the executive secretary of the International Kiteboarding Association, predicted that the sport will be transformed by the ISAF's decision.

"The decision will change the lives of thousands of kiteboarders that now can live their Olympic dream," he said.

"The National Sailing Associations will invest hundred thousands, if not millions of Euros to invest in equipment, coaching and supporting the riders to go to the Olympic qualification events.

"We never thought that we will get that far in so short time." 

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May 2012: Kiteboarding to replace windsurfing at Rio 2016 Olympics