SPORTS

Outspoken federation chief clambers for recognition

Paul Henderson, head of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) is watching yesterday’s races in a speedboat, provided by the federation’s vice president, George Andreadis. As the boat hurtles across the Saronic Gulf at a speed of nearly 40 knots to get ahead of the racing boats, Henderson can’t hide his admiration for the Olympic sailors. «The smaller the boat, the better the sailor. Most of the America’s Cup sailors cut their teeth by sailing dinghy-type boats,» he says, emphasizing the fact that he himself is a dinghy sailor. In contrast to most sports federations, the Olympics is a very small part of the ISAF’s activities, «just 10 percent of our business,» he says. There are many classes and types of boats, including the America’s Cup competition and all those transatlantic and round-the-world events. «We are more a sanctioning than a marketing and promotional body,» Henderson says. The 70-year-old mechanical engineer has been at the head of the ISAF since 1994. He was also elected to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but, under the new rules which apply to members elected since 1999, he will be required to step down on grounds of age. He will retain his place on the Evaluation Commission looking into the bids for the 2012 Summer Games. An online search for Henderson reveals many very critical articles about his tenure as ISAF head. In one site, he was even described as «the Saddam Hussein of sailing.» «Sailors are… a bunch of ornery bastards,» one of his boat companions chimes in. «They make statements without knowing what’s going on. Everyone considers themselves an expert. Like journalists,» he says. Henderson clearly enjoys speaking his mind, even when he knows his statements will grate. On sailing competition here in Athens, for example, he is quite satisfied but also has a problem. «I would like everybody to realize how much the international federations do to make this work. The IOC takes credit, ATHOC (the Games organizers) takes credit but it’s the federations who really make it work. So, I hope everybody recognizes what we did.» He is especially critical of the fact that one of the ISAF’s proposals – to build a promenade around the venue so that more of the public could watch – was rejected. «On grounds of security, of course. That’s their first excuse. How about the Olympic stadium? The crowd there is much closer to the athletes.» Henderson also has a problem with the sailing venue manager. «The current venue manager is very difficult (to work with). Halfway through the Olympics, I decided to ignore him and do what has to be done,» he says. Asked to name one of his differences with the venue manager, Henderson says that he wouldn’t allow into the venue the containers to pack the boats of classes that have already finished. He also has a bone to pick with the audience. «They just can’t applaud only the Greeks and then leave the place. That is why I decided to put any ceremonies involving Greek crews at the end so that (spectators) would stay for the other ceremonies, as well.» Other than that, Henderson is full of praise for the sailing center, to whose design the ISAF provided crucial input. «What we asked them to do is to build something that would be used after (the Games), that would leave a legacy, be profitable. I think that our venue will be the only profitable one after the Olympics.» He also praises highly the Greek duo of Sophia Bekatorou and Emilia Tsoulfa, who won the 470 class. «They are in a class by themselves,» he says.