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4 December 2003, 07:10 am
On Alternative Penalties
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The President Speaks

There has been a lively debate on ISAF's decision to have No Drop Race allowed for the Olympic Games in Athens. Some say it changes the game too close to the Olympics and does not allow the sailors to adapt.
Others say it is the coaches and sailors who have changed the intent of the Game and the No Drop rule allows the Game to be played the way it was meant to be played and bring it back into the intended box. If that is true then it is never too late so to do.

Everytime ISAF endorses a new defensive rule the coaches and sailors endeavour to use the change to gain a positive advantage. After ISAF dropped the Star for 2000, the IOC allowed ISAF to return the Star with an 11th event provided it was done at no more cost to Sydney. ISAF was able to accomplish this by allowing the coaches with their own boats to tow their teams to the start. Simple solution saving Sydney over $1 million and keeping the Star which allowed ISAF to use the 11th event for the Women in Athens.

But what happened? The wealthy teams drove a truck through this crack and loaded their coach boats with sophisticated and expensive electronics so as to give their teams an advantage.

ISAF had to act and now there are very strict controls which had to be made even more restrictive after the Cadiz experience. Olympics are for "Talent" not "Technology". Olympics are for sailors and not for classes or coaches.

ISAF over the years has instituted new rules so as to be fair to the sailors and endeavour to stop endless protests. This includes being allowed to hit marks and do a 360 or get caught on Port Tack and do a 720. Rule 42 even gives a warning before being disqualified. One well known sailor instructed new sailors to look for the judges' boat and play by Rule 42 if seen and to do everything when they did not see the judges. Result is if caught do their turns and if caught twice the sailor could drop the race. No harm done except berate the ISAF Judges.

OCS is the most misunderstood rule. No one is disqualified for OCS. They are disqualified for not returning and starting properly after OCS.

Since there are so few boats in the Olympic Regatta the chances of requiring a Black Flag are minimal. ISAF will appoint two top international PRO's on each course calling the line. If there is a collision which is no fault of the competitor then YMP points can be implemented also. So ISAF Rules are very lenient and sailor friendly.

On top of all this there was allowed a Drop Race. What has been the result of this? The sailors have used it as an offensive weapon and not for what it was intended. Sailors sail very aggressively ignoring the rules until they get their Drop. They push the starts and demand redress, take unwarranted risks on port tack especially at the windward mark and do not do their turns taking their chances in a protest room and on and on. The Drop Race has become an offensive weapon.

There is no other sport in the world that has treated their top competitors this way. The most famous downhill skier of the "Krazy Kanucks" who had trained all his life for his two minutes of Olympic Glory on the third turn broke his ski-binding and fell. They did not say: "Oh too bad you can go get another pair and start over!". or a top rated Triathlete was wiped out by another bicycle and was out of contention or the famous women's 100m race where the USA athlete was spiked and fell or the famous rower who broke his oarlock. No redress or start again or YMP. That is sport.

Sailing gives the sailor every benefit of the doubt with all the chances to be fair. The Drop Race allowed the sailor to ignore the rules until caught and then sail closer to the way the game was meant to be played. With No Drop the sailor must sail more conservatively and within the rules from the start of the regatta.

The debate has focussed on a few issues which should be addressed such as the point scoring if the Time Limit kicks in and also the need to inform sailors as soon as possible if they are OCS.

But these are adjustments and do not require a Drop Race to fix. The argument that a breakdown is not covered now is true, but many would argue that it is a major part of sailing to make sure your equipment does not break. This is the only real change that the No drop causes. I would like to add that most broken masts in the Star are caused by "Pilot Error" and not by faulty equipment. A skipper's "Death Roll" downwind when immersing the whisker pole is usually bad for the mast.

The other major issue is the coaches and sailors pushing the measurement rules. The Olympic Regatta is for "One-Designs". The definition of One Design clearly put is: "If it is not in the rule it is illegal!!" Hopefully the ISAF measurement team in Athens will meticulously measure all boats and any deviation from the rule or intent of the rule will be dealt with harshly. This means any changes to the hull that was not as delivered from the ISAF licensed builder will be declared illegal. There has been an interesting situation with the Mistral as the manufacturers said that the New Boards were as fast as the old ones and therefore both should be allowed so as the less affluent nations need not buy new equipment.

The interesting thing in Cadiz was that all the wealthy nations had old boards because they are faster and the less affluent had the new ones. In fact when one of the wealthy nation's old board delaminated they flew another old board in. ISAF has now, on an urgent submission, said only new boards can be used and still the complaints from developed MNA's that they cannot use their old customized boards. ISAF will make the playing field in Athens level for all. The Mistral Class fully supports this move by ISAF.

I will always find it hard to accept that ISAF is accused of not knowing what is happening. The truth is that many ISAF delegates do know what is going on and it is just that the sailors do not want ot accept that.

I watched a soccer match last night between Manchester United and Chelsea and everytime the referee made a call or flashed a Yellow Card there was the most incredible tirade by the footballer pleading that he did nothing wrong and accusing the referee of bias. Good analogy methinks.

The instantaneous replays showed the player pulling on the opponents shirt or tripping or using their hands illegally. ISAF's advice is to play the Sailing Game within the rules and you will have no problems whatsoever in Athens and it is ISAF's mandate to make sure that all competitors do just that.

Good Luck to all Olympic hopefuls as Athens will be a great success.

Paul Henderson

Paul Henderson
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