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August 21, 2006

World gliding championships (1). Are we making progress?

Filed under: Topics by Mike — ritz @ 11:09 pm

By MikeMike

Part 1: Equal opportunities

The first world gliding champion was Heini Ditmar in 1937. From the Wasserkuppe he flew a DFS Sao Paolo glider to victory beating 30 competitors. There was only one class to compete in: Open class! In those days there were about half a million active glider pilots in the world and Heini Ditmar was the best of them all. Six years later (1943!) he was to fly a Me163 rocket fighter in level flight to a speed of over 1120 km per hour (!) during a highly secret test flight, but that’s another story. No doubt he was an extraordinary talented (and courageous) pilot.

Things have changed a bit since then. The number of active glider pilots worldwide has steadily dropped to somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand. Interestingly the number of world champions is on the rise (!), rapidly approaching fifteen! So, from a statistical perspective, your chances of becoming a world champion are now about eighty times better than 70 years ago.

To become one (a world champion) you need to participate in a world championship (you can’t win if you’re not in..). To be able to do that you must be selected by your national aero club and this is where the misery starts. The system of selection hasn’t changed much in the past seventy years. The whole selection circus revolves around “representing” your country. This means that pilots being “sent” to represent their countries have been “selected” by their national aero clubs, and these in turn derive their power to select from the fact that the FAI has accredited them.

Every country has the right to “send” an equal number of pilots to the World Championships. So Germany, France or the USA, with busloads of very good pilots, can each send the same number of pilots as for instance Jamaica. This is great for the Jamaican pilots (they might all go) but bad for the glider pilots of the big gliding nations. The system discriminates against them and the overall quality of competition may be lowered as a result of this. The current system doesn’t give equal access opportunities to glider pilots around the world.

Any glider pilot, regardless of nationality, needs to have equal opportunity to progress to the world championships without interference (or “help”) from selection panels, national aero clubs or other access regulating mechanism (other than capacity limits).

From past experience it has become clear that a sensible limit to the number of entries in any one (world) gliding competition is a bit over one hundred aircraft. Let us say one hundred for arguments sake. At the moment we have six competition classes: Open, 18-meter, racing, standard, club and the largely failed world class. Fortunately the classes are now being grouped two-by-two (instead of 3 or 4 in one venue), so there are currently three hundred world championship contest places available. Once the classes are separated again and every class has its own world championship, that number can rise to six hundred. That’s probably theory because it is hard to imagine more than fifty or sixty open class gliders turning up at any one time, but you never know. On the other side of the performance spectrum, it would probably be impossible to find a hundred world-class gliders and/or enough pilots willing to fly them, so that championship will probably remain heavily undersubscribed.

Having agreed to the conceptual necessity of providing equal opportunities to all glider pilots the question is how to go about it, and the answer is really quite simple:

Remove the national aero clubs (“countries”) from the selection loop and let the IGC develop a system of world ranking regulating access to the world championships.

This requires the IGC to classify competitions as “A” or “B” contests. “A” contests are World-, European-, and National Championships plus a handful of other contests that can be deemed to be of national level or better. “B” type contest could be any other multi-day contest like regional championships, state championships etc. It seems fair to expect pilots to compete in one Cat B contest before participating in Cat A events. Any (qualified) pilot from anywhere in the world should be eligible to enter any Cat A contest of his choosing (subject to limitations in numbers of participants and the venue not being a World or Supra-National championship).

This freedom to enter is very important because it will lead to aspiring world championships competitors “finding” Cat A competitions so they can climb on the world ranking. This will be good for all, as the championships that are unpopular now will suddenly attract foreign pilots and thus the quality of that contest will be enriched, good for the locals and good for the visitors. The world ranking based on Cat A contest results will now (automatically) generate the eligibility for world championships based on merit and not based on nationality. Sure, there will be lots of entries of pilots from the big gliding nations, but nationals of countries that are unknown to FAI or countries that have no national championships can now qualify for the world championships by participating in Cat A events anywhere in the world.

So what will change now if we decide to go this way? Not a lot really for most glider pilots. The national aero clubs will go about their (very useful) business as they are doing today. Competitions and championships will still be organized. The only difference will be that access to world gliding championships is regulated by a world-ranking list administered by the IGC and based on the results of accredited level A contests. The national selection committees can be abandoned, its members possibly being redirected to other activities. Competitions will be open for participants regardless of nationality and that should make it more interesting for everyone.

Now that’s progress!

In part 2 we will talk a bit about classes, tasks, contest locations, age groups and gender. Stay tuned…..!

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