False start for sailing in Vietnam

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For a country with 3,500km of coastline, Vietnam has very little sailing apart from windsurfing and kite-surfing. If the government approves a new National Sailing Plan the sport could take on new dimensions


Two young Vietnamese practice sailing in Con Dao Archipelago under sailing instructor, Julia Shaw. Shaw has been trying to set up international standards for the sport in Vietnam.

Just south of the fishing port in Mui Ne, a popular tourist destination in the south-central province of Binh Thuan, Nguyen The Tung grips the tiller and pulls on the sail.

The sail makes a deep whip-cracking sound as it violently flutters and snaps into a taut triangular bowl. The spray wets his face as he turns to see his colleague, Tran Quoc Phung, following behind in another Olympic standard Laser Radial racing boat.

The two young men are being trained to be sailing trainers for the general public at the new MANTA sailing school in Mui Ne, by the UK licensed sailing instructor, Julia Shaw.

In 2008, the Vietnam Olympic Committee under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism approached Shaw and asked her to help promote sailing in Vietnam.

In August, she recruited Tung, Phung and two other trainees to represent Vietnam at the Second Asian Beach Games in Oman, this month.

But on October 20, the funding for the campaign promised by Binh Thuan Province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Department fell through. The provincial department told Shaw they hadn't done their sums right and didn't have enough money.

"The U-turns did take the wind out of my sails for a few days as it had taken a lot of training [of Tung, Phung and the other two trainees] to organize/prioritize in a very short time, when I would otherwise have been looking to set up my school," Shaw said.

Plugging into ISAF standards

"Oman was like a sort of test drive of the National Sailing Plan," said Shaw.

The National Sailing Plan was her baby that she wrote this year when she decided to set up the sailing school.

Shaw had spoken to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) in April about how to set up the training and certification for a sailing school. They told her it would be better to set it up properly from the beginning by "plugging into safety, standards and events."

They advised her to set up a National Sailing Federation and then apply for Vietnam to become a member nation of ISAF. Then they sent out the manager of the International Department of the French Sailing Federation (FFVoile), Bernard Bonneau, in July to see how it was going.

Bonneau's visit was very positive, as Helen Fry, Head of Administration of ISAF Secretariat, said in an email to Shaw later that month.

"I have had some very positive feedback. I was wondering how your plans are going regarding becoming an ISAF member," the email read.

The significance of ISAF membership is huge, as Vietnam cannot enter or hold international sailing events without it. ISAF also provides a lot of training support and assistance to member developing nations to compete in international events.

As part of the National Sailing Plan, working with Lam Quang Thanh, vice director of the Vietnam Olympic Committee in HCMC and President of National Sports University-HCMC, Shaw had prepared all the paperwork to set up a National Sailing Federation.

In a meeting during Bonneau's visit, Thanh told Bonneau that he had already given the ISAF application to the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, to sign.

Step back

But ISAF never received the application from the ministry, as Bonneau said in a recent interview by email: "I was expecting an application to be considered at the ISAF conference early November, but it seems the Vietnam Olympic Committee has stepped back."

Of the National Sailing Plan he assessed it as "promising, provided it received support from authorities."

Bonneau described a palpable desire to build a team for the 2010 Asian Beach Games so that Vietnam might host the next competition, the ISAF delegate said.

"This was a perfect scheme to initiate the development with the conjunction of two objectives: develop training and organize major events," Bonneau added.

Bonneau said he was disappointed that the campaign for Oman was abandoned. A lot of work had gone into it and it was a good opportunity to inspire young Vietnamese sailors, adding there might be a long wait for another opportunity.

The false starts aside, 2010 was a massive year of organizing for Shaw. She has regrouped now and kept her national focus.

She has agreed to train 40 students from the National Sports University-HCMC and has switched focus at her sailing school from national team training to teaching her staff (Tung and Phung) to provide sailing to the general public.

She said she believes that Vietnam will eventually become an ISAF member (with the next opportunity next April) and hold ISAF international events by 2012.

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