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8 November 2006, 03:00 pm
A Word With The Chair - John DOERR
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ISAF Annual Conference 2006
Helsinki, Finland

The ISAF Race Officials Committee took centre stage on day five of the ISAF Annual Conference. Following the conclusion of the meeting caught up with the Committee Chairman John DOERR (GBR).
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Although they rarely make the headlines, Race Officials are a crucial part of the sailing world. The Race Officials Committee cover the four categories of race management, umpiring, judging and measurement. Race management covers setting courses and running races; judging involves settling disputes - and increasingly - making calls out on the water; umpiring covers 'refereeing' on the water in match racing; and measurement ensures that all the competitors are complying to the equipment rules.

A major part of the Committee's work is to decide on race officials' applications. They also review the success of the programme of seminars and clinics, which take place around the world, used to train and encourage the development of officials.

New Challenges

Increasingly, officials are playing a more prominent role on the water, in particular because of the introduction of the Medal Race format. This year the Committee reflected on the challenges this presents.

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'We gave ourselves a bit of time to look where we're going,' explained DOERR. 'We're concerned about a lack of race officials of the right levels. Our age profile doesn't look very healthy, but sailing's a sport that people continue doing for a long time… So the transition from doing to officiating happens a lot later than in other sports and that pushes the age range up.'

DOERR went on to explain that the Committee are taking a proactive approach to addressing the problem, 'We're starting to make it much more obvious how you become a Race Official. We think that people might have an interest but don't know where to start. We're going to produce some information on the website and on leaflets for key events that says how you go about doing this. We're going to point to existing people as mentors for the new people coming in, before they become race officials and immediately after, to help them develop faster. We're looking at scholarships, particularly for people from more remote regions.

'We're sending people out to run clinics in Asia and South America. I'm going to Asia in December, and then South America next year. Staying in touch is the main thing and also making them feel they are in touch with us.'

Familiar Pathway

DOERR began sailing in a way that will be familiar to many. Whilst on holiday as an eight year old he first went out on a boat and 'loved it' so much that he went back the next day and swept the boatyard in return for a second lesson. The sailing bug had bit and as his sailing career developed he went on to win a World Championship in the Wayfarer class. Sailing in Cowes Week he helped one night in the protest room, enjoyed it and consequently decided to get involved in protest work at the Lymington Yacht Club. They were one of the first clubs to introduce umpiring to match racing and from there his involvement in officiating has snowballed.

The path has led DOERR his current position of Chair of the Race Officials Commmittee at a time when, with the new Medal Race format, officials are in the spotlight as never before.

'Race officials will be on the front page making decisions out on the water,' he acknowledged. 'It needs a different set of skills. We're got a lot of those skills developed in match racing and team racing so that's really helping us get on top of that quite quickly.'

'We're looking at a big team in China with race management, judging and measuring.'

Crucial Part

Since the launch of the Race Officials Programme in the late 1970s, Juries, Judges, Measurers and Umpires have become an accepted and a crucial part of the sailing world. As that world develops and becomes increasingly professional so new challenges arise, and DOERR is keen that the Committee does not get caught out.

'We've got to face up in the not too distance future to becoming more professional in the way we behave, which is fraught with a lot of difficulties for a lot of people. The trick is to get the professional end right without losing the Corinthian end at the same time.'

'That is something we've got to start preparing for. Sailors are demanding a better service, they're spending more money and more of their life doing this and we've got to match it somehow. That's one of the big issues that's really gone on the table this year, for the first time as a proper issue.'

Probably the greatest comment to an official in any sport is that they go unnoticed, allowing the spotlight to remain firmly on the competitors. It is a testament to the success of the Race Officials Programme and spirit of sailing competition that this is so often the case in our sport. John DOERR and the rest of the Race Officials Committee, and its four Sub-Committees, are working hard to maintain the high standards they have set.

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ISAF. Image, John DOERR gets his point across at the Race Officials Committee:© ISAF
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