Sportsmanship Quiz Analysis, with Sporty & Friends

Our counselor in racing ethics reviews feeback from readers and poses new questions. From the April issue.

Hundreds of sailors responded to Sporty's quiz of ethical dilemmas on the racecourse ("Dear Sporty, Did I Mess Up?" Oct. '04). It's heartening to know that so many sailors share the desire to do the right thing while racing. Snipe sailor Vincent Casalaina wrote: "There are several instances from my past sailing that I always look back on with dismay, times when I clearly did not do the right thing in the heat of the moment. Those times make me more aware of how I want our sport to stress sportsmanship in all its forms much more than it does now." I wholeheartedly agree-I wish I could take back the times that I've screwed up. And I'm sure the sailors who I treated unfairly are rolling their eyes that my name is associated with an article on sportsmanship! But that's where Sporty comes in-and when Sporty needs a second opinion, he can ask respected sailors for their input. In this article, Sporty looks at some of the trickier questions from our quiz (see results in sidebar), calls up some friends, and gives his input. Hopefully the mental rehearsal of solving tricky moral dilemmas in a magazine will help us all perform more admirably when we are tested on the water. Is it wrong to change the set-up of your boat right before you switch out of it in a round-robin event? Sporty says: Perhaps the question was too vague and the "yes" votes are imagining a windy collegiate regatta during which safety would dictate easing the vang before tying up to the dock. I wanted the opinion of a top match racer who frequently attends round-robin regattas and is known for her resolute ethics. So I asked Olympic medalist Pease Glaser who made three categories: In her "not unsportsmanlike (but insecure)" category are adjustments like changing jib leads, traveler position, etc., that are clearly meant to be made by sailors while racing. In her "unsportsmanlike (or at least unfriendly)" category are purposefully packing the spinnaker wrong, loosening ring dings so they hopefully will come undone, untaping items that have been taped such as shroud pins, and causing delay by hiding the protest flag or winch handles. Her third category-"clearly against the rules"-would be changing rig settings when it has been stated that the rigs were pre-set by race organizers and are not to be adjusted. If a country is trying to earn an Olympic slot, is it OK for its countrymen to slow up the closest competition to help their country qualify? Sporty says: A typical yes answer came from Peter Nelson who wrote: "At the Olympic level, national loyalty is paramount. I would expect the team to do whatever is ethically appropriate to insure their team gets a bid. The way I interpret the question, it sounds similar to covering a competitor and driving him deep into the pack to insure your own victory." Sporty asked top sailor and well-known good sport Morgan Larson to give his input on this one. Morgan makes the point that since these same events are used by some countries to select their individual sailors, team racing then can have a huge impact on individual results. So according to Morgan, the answer is no. "Slowing up a competitor to let your fellow countrymen by is 'team racing' and is a breach of the rules and poor sportsmanship." Is it OK for your friends to help by covering or tacking on a competitor on the last day of a regatta if you didn't ask for help? Sporty says: Obviously we can't be held accountable for the actions of others, yet this gets back to the fundamentals of sportsmanship. We want to win the race fair and square with our competitors sailing at their best and we want the respect of our competitors. If the only reason that you won was because your friend sailed your closest competitor into last place, then you haven't met many of the criteria listed above. "Your friend is breaching the rules by voluntarily helping you," says Larson. "This happened to me at the Youth Nationals when my friend let me pass him on the last beat because he wasn't 'in the hunt' and I was. I didn't ask him and he didn't know this was illegal, but the judges protested us both and after the hearing they disqualified my friend from the race." Should you share your tuning measurements with anyone who asks? Sporty says: That question is tricky. Does "anyone" include that jerk who always lists the reasons why you were lucky to beat him, and if he wins, doesn't hesitate to enumerate his many brilliant tactical moves. Yet the paragraph above mentions the satisfaction that comes from winning when our competitors are sailing at their best. So I would say that you should be a good example and yes, share information whenever asked. Your fleet will get speedier and your sailing will improve by having better competition. Sporty adds: I once witnessed Morgan Larson perform a great act of sportsmanship in the 470 class at the Miami OCR. A young, inexperienced team had capsized and stuck their mast in the sand on the starting line with less than 5 minutes to the gun. Morgan handed the tiller to his crew, swam over to the other boat and helped those kids right their boat, then jumped back in his boat and started the race. And one more thing . . . Sporty apologizes: Of course, good sportsmanship requires owning up to one's mistakes. Paul Bogataj wrote an articulate critique of a statement I made in my previous article. In response to a question about loaning spare gear, I had added a tongue-in-cheek admonition to the borrower: "And just maybe you should think twice next time you're about to tack right on me." Paul writes: "While it is a classy act to loan a competitor equipment, there should be no implication that any favors are due on the racecourse. Favors may be returned in life (which is the context where a spinnaker is loaned in), but the integrity of the game should be respected." He adds, "The difference between games, like sailboat racing, and life is that in life those with sincere ethics consider the impact of their actions on others, while in the game, they get to act only in the interests of themselves. Games of sport are the venue outside of life where selfishness is allowed, as the objective is to win (within the context of the rules that define the game, and not through any other means). The satisfaction in achieving success comes from having performed well as measured by comparison to others playing the same game. If favors are granted within the game (particularly those that were 'purchased' through actions outside of the game), then the game is not the same for all competitors." Well said! Thank you for your input, and Sporty regrets giving the impression that a nice deed like loaning a spinnaker would require a debt to be paid on the racecourse. That's all for this issue. Next time, with your help, we'll discuss a tricky question we received. Take the quiz above and let us know what you think.) Eds Note: Readers are also encouraged to send questions and comments to Sporty c/o