Liam Morgan

Gerardo Seeliger knew he was in trouble the moment the race began.

The Spaniard was sailing in his beloved Finn class at the 1970 European Championships in Dún Laoghaire, on the outskirts of Dublin, in tough and windy conditions when his boat capsized.

According to the official website of the International Finn Association (IFA), Seeliger was one of two competitors seen floating away from their boat. He was not wearing a life-jacket but instead donned an additional jumper or two, an old sailor's tactic designed to increase weight.

"I became detached from the boat," Seeliger recalled in a news article on the IFA official website two years ago.

"I was completely waterlogged. My lungs were full of water. I had given up."

Thankfully for Seeliger, a fellow athlete by the name of György Fináczy came to his rescue.

The Hungarian abandoned his race to help the Spaniard into his boat, before he was transferred into a motorboat and taken to shore to undergo medical checks.

Seeliger, who credits Fináczy with saving his life, was back racing the next day and continued a career which took him to the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, as well as 20 European and World Championships.

Gerardo Seeliger, right, with György Fináczy - the man who came to his rescue in Dublin in 1970 ©IFA
Gerardo Seeliger, right, with György Fináczy - the man who came to his rescue in Dublin in 1970 ©IFA

The 72-year-old, who is still an active sailor and competed at the 2017 Finn Gold Cup at the age of 70, went on to become a sports administrator, holding roles with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) among others.

But it is sailing which is his true passion, so it is no surprise to see he has come out of retirement and set his sights on the top job at the worldwide governing body.

"My opportunity came when Presidents of National Federations called me, and said ‘Gerardo, you need to step in and be a candidate for President,'" Seeliger told insidethegames.

"This was in April of this year. I immediately called my friend, [World Sailing President] Kim Andersen, and told him that I will be a candidate.

"I did not want him to learn this through rumours. I took the initiative. It was my obligation, ethically, to do that.

"They asked me [to stand] not because I am particularly good, to be honest, but because the current President is facing many problems.”

Throwing his hat into the ring did not come easy for Seeliger. In an interview with Seahorse Magazine, the Spaniard said he was informed by Andersen that he could not be a candidate as he had a conflict of interest, owing to his position as Honorary President of the Finn class.

Seeliger swiftly resigned and has set course for a job occupied by Andersen, who insiders believe is under mounting pressure amid the "problems" outlined by his current challenger.

Chief among these issues is the financial situation at World Sailing, which, if you believe the Olympic Movement rumour mill, is far from stable.

Sailing Illustrated wrote a piece last year detailing the organisation's finances. Citing published accounts, the article said World Sailing had a “whopping” loss of £5.2 million ($6.7 million/€6 million) in 2017 and painted a picture of a worldwide body struggling to cope without the money given to each International Federation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after the Games.

World Sailing President Kim Andersen was elected in 2016 ©Getty Images
World Sailing President Kim Andersen was elected in 2016 ©Getty Images

There are some who believe the situation has worsened since. Seeliger cited the budget as a key issue and claimed World Sailing had "spent a lot of money" under the leadership of Andersen and chief executive Andy Hunt.

News emerged earlier this month that Hunt, a man known in Olympic circles for a well-publicised failure with a plan to sell Team GB scarves and collectible medals during a previous role with the British Olympic Association, was leaving his position for a "new international role" in 2020.

Critics within World Sailing have also cast doubt on the decision to relocate its headquarters from Southampton to London, where prime real estate does not come cheap.

Away from the financial concerns, the selection of the Olympic classes for Paris 2024 - which a prominent sailing writer said was the sport's version of Brexit - has caused the current administration a headache or two, while a widespread governance review proposal is also on the table.

Many of the challenges outlined by Seeliger, an experienced World Sailing official who has served on several committees within the body, are being discussed this week at the organisation's Annual Conference in Bermuda.

It is here where Seeliger, a close confidante of former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, has begun pitching his plan.

"I have a chance to talk to all of them and get their opinions," Seeliger said.

"I am here to listen and to learn.

"I worked for many years with Juan Antonio Samaranch, he always listened very carefully. He had his people out there listening, getting the general impression and then he took decisions.

"Right now there is a big discussion about whether the Finn should stay Olympic, whether the keelboat should come in to the Olympic Games, for example.

"I want to listen and hear what everybody feels needs to be done."

Seeliger has based his campaign on what he calls his "pillars", including transparency, accountability, compliance, good governance, improved efficiency and "putting sailors first".

He says the decision-making at World Sailing should not be made from what he calls its "ivory tower", but instead should be a "bottom-up” approach, while he has also targeted cost reduction and finding increased sources of revenue for the organisation.

"Sailing is probably one of the most complex sports," the Spaniard added. "The terrain is different, there are loads of different classes, youth classes, the Americas Cup - hundreds of millions of dollars go into these boats.

"But the sailing federation, compared to others, is a very poor one. We don’t have big sponsors, they go to the big boats like the America's Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, and there is very little money for sailing for the youth, women, the Paralympics and also for emerging nations."

Seeliger, also a former executive director of the Association of National Olympic Committees, has not yet come up with any concrete aims he hopes to achieve if he is elected President.

The Spaniard, who campaigned for vice-president in 2012, will also need to address the doubters, some of whom will question whether someone who turns 73 next year can lead the organisation out of troubled waters.

While his experience in sailing and beyond cannot be questioned, the well-respected official needs to make more persuasive pledges if he is to convince the electorate that he is the right man for the job.

Should he be able to do so, he may stand a strong chance of being elevated to the Presidency - 50 years after his career, and his life, nearly came to an end.