Fair?

Visit 52 Super SeriesROB WEILAND has his own slant on the Oracle Team USA cheating scandal and its repercussions

Reading the Yachting New Zealand (YNZ) Complaints Commission report on the AC45 cheating saga raises questions. The report concludes, after following a long and winding road of some 26 pages, by recommending not to take further action against the two Kiwi Oracle Team USA team members it was asked to advise on. The report does lift the carpet a few millimetres more than the AC International Jury Notices. What we see is not pleasant.

The names of three fellow countrymen pop up and I read the names of many others who should know better to stay well clear of rule infringements. At this level members, whether sailing or non-sailing, of any sailing team should a) know and b) know better. To know what goes on is essential for daily improvement. It’s no use having highly skilled pros working on assumptions of what others are doing. Not knowing is never an excuse in this environment.

Being told to do this or that without giving the instruction any thought or thinking that others are taking care of things in a ‘proper way’ is no excuse either. Your mother will have tried to get this between your ears many years ago. Communication between team members at this level, you may hope, is structured. And so can be analysed and made transparent. I have not seen a serious attempt to sketch the full OTUSA hierarchy tree in relation to the cheating.

‘Should know better’ is more open to debate. Many rely on instinct when it comes to rules, instead of reading them. How to ‘live up to rules’ is also a cultural thing; cheating is not universally viewed the same, whether between different layers in one society or societies all over the planet. A clear set of rules and proper and continuous education and administration are essential.

This is where the institutions that control sailing come into play. Over the past decades, from clubs to governing bodies, they have not always been in touch with reality on this subject. Head in the sand, dirt under the carpet. And so partly to blame for what in this case seems a lack of direction on how to act once a gross breach of good sportsmanship has been established.

No discussion, the cheating took place. Personally, I am more surprised about cheating with the length of the kingposts, and the lack of attention to that by the jury, than about making the struts heavier. Altering the length requires the involvement of a lot more people. You may imagine the direct involvement of the design department, engineering, rigging, component construction, boatbuilding, sails, shore and race crew and unavoidably management.

No discussion, cheating shall be penalised. In my opinion the monetary fine and two race point penalty was a well-balanced slap on the wrist. Certainly not an attempt to drive OTUSA out of the competition. But how to investigate, how to prosecute, how to judge, how to punish the individuals involved in a gross breach of good sportsmanship? Not the way it was done, my oh my what a mess the YNZ Complaints Commission says, if I translate freely. One may rightfully fear that those penalised so far did indeed not have a fair trial.

Having raced boats, helped to build dozens of boats and been boat captain in the decades of near-unbridled cheating in handicap yacht racing, the 1970s and 80s, and still witnessing today well-educated grown-ups ‘adjusting’ the measured weight of a yacht before a race, I am not too surprised that the rot stretches to the highest level of competition. On the other hand, I am surprised when it concerns professional sailors. If there is one thing that can and will hurt yacht racing by hurting participation, revenue, jobs and prestige then it is cheating.

All this needs to be translated from the cloud cuckooland of AC racing to the slightly more real world of class and club racing. How on earth can we hope to cope adequately if we stumble on cheating if the pinnacle of our sport cannot cope with it and set an example?

Do we have enough expertise, checks and balances to a) detect infringements and b) bring them to fair justice? Are there in the light of this specific case enough tools in the rules and regulations toolbox? Whether the RRS or the specific event and class rules? And enough qualified people to guarantee good-quality detection, prosecution and trial? The answer is no, it will continue to be ‘trial and error’, I am afraid.

At the Barclays 52 Super Series the TP52 measurer Pablo Ferrer and I have started a new series of regular checks on our TP52s. We were in fact asked by various teams to tighten up rule enforcement. There is a non-cynical reason for such a request: the general feeling was that the boats need a ‘measurement reset’ after a period of adapting to the various rule changes.

Indeed, it does not really work to keep adjusting certificates over a long period with small changes and simple maintenance jobs. Every now and then you need to do a complete check of all the key data to feel confident that a boat is legal. Fair competition starts with rule-compliant equipment.

To conclude, I just came home from the Gaastra PalmaVela. So nice to see Phoenix, the first of the 2015 TP52 Rule boats, racing. She is attracting a lot of attention. There is a very positive buzz of activity in ordering and planning new TP52s for 2015. Actually, one set of moulds is being prepared already in the Valencia area for two sisterships from the hands of Botín.

First, however, we have to make 2014 a success. Capri this month with nine boats, then Porto Cervo in June for the Audi TP52 Worlds, then Copa del Rey and in September the Royal Cup Marina Ibiza. Go, go, go…

Rob Weiland, TP52 class manager

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