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Jobson Report: View From On Top

From inside the halls of the sport’s international governing body, we can see how complex the sport really is, and what issues require our immediate attention.

October 30, 2013
ISAF Sailing World Cup

ISAF Sailing World Cup

Jean-marie Liot/dppi

Most sailors are connected to the management of our sport through their class, yacht club, yacht racing association, or respective Member National Authority—for most of you reading this column, that’s US Sailing. Few sailors, however, are aware of the role played by the International Sailing Federation. ISAF is the governing body of the sport, a large organization of 110 class associations and 138 countries, each represented by their MNA. The organization, originally known as the International Yacht Racing Union, was established in 1907, so it’s been around longer than any one of us.

Last November, I was elected to a four-year term on ISAF’s Executive Committee as one of seven vice presidents. It has been an energetic year for our committee, and the staff is addressing a wide variety of issues and projects. It’s a relatively obscure organization, but essential in establishing sailing’s rules and regulations. ISAF hosts major international events and sets the direction of sailing that extends to every level of the sport and to all sailors. The International Olympic Committee recognizes ISAF as the governing authority for sailing worldwide. The most significant event ISAF manages is the Olympic regatta. Consequently, many of ISAF’s programs are built around the four-year Olympic cycle.

In addition, ISAF promotes sailing internationally, develops “The Racing Rules of Sailing,” trains judges, umpires, and other race administrators, develops the sport around the world, and represents all sailors in all matters concerning the sport. The organization also runs youth world championships, the ISAF Sailing World Cup, the Match Racing World Championship, and the Team Racing World Championship. It works to improve safety standards and training programs for MNAs of all sizes, and endorses and grades match racing events, Olympic class regattas, and professional events such as the America’s Cup, the Extreme Sailing Series, and the Volvo Ocean Race.

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ISAF’s headquarters are in Southampton, England, adjacent to the ferry dock that services Cowes, the famous yachting center on the Isle of Wight. The staff is led by CEO Jerome Pels, and includes 21 full-time staff and two part-time employees. Each year at its Annual Conference, about 500 representatives from around the world meet to discuss sailing issues and enact future plans.

Funding for ISAF comes from several sources including the IOC, MNAs, class associations, publications, sponsorships, measurement certificates, investments, seminars, and special events. The ISAF Council itself is made up of 32 regional or constituent-based representatives. It meets once or twice per year with the Executive Committee. North America has three Council members: Cory Sertl and Gary Bodie of the United States, and Peter Hall of Canada. Decisions from various committees, sub-committees, commissions, and working parties are voted on at these sessions, and as one might imagine, such a diverse international group produces many different opinions. A transparent process is therefore essential.

About three months before the Conference, ISAF publishes a booklet of submissions. These submissions by MNAs, classes, and committees are put forth for suggested changes to regulations, procedures, the constitution, and the racing rules. The submissions are thoroughly discussed, debated, and sometimes modified before and during the Conference. Votes are taken toward the end of the seven-day Conference. The process can be slow, and at times frustrating, but it’s important that every stakeholder have an opportunity to make its case.

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The international composition of ISAF became very apparent to me during the 2012 Annual Conference in Dublin, Ireland. At one point between meetings, I was talking with three delegates about how to start a sailing school. It was a good discussion. Each delegate asked excellent and provocative questions. At one point I wondered where the three individuals were from, and it turned out that they were from Cuba, Palestine, and Iran. When I discovered this, I immediately thought about how sailing could contribute to making the world a more peaceful place.

The Executive Committee, of which I’m a member, is a part of the Council. The committee meets four to five times per year in person, and each vice president is assigned a portfolio of ISAF responsibilities. Last year we met in Italy to divide the tasks. My portfolio now includes “The Racing Rules of Sailing,” Oceanic and Offshore Racing, Marketing and Sponsorship, Sailor Classification, Information Technology, Communications, and Television. In addition, each vice president works with a different geographic region. My territory includes the English-speaking countries of North and South America.

The issues we deal with are often complicated. Sailor Classification is one of the most challenging, and one that needs to be addressed. Tom Rinda, of the United States, heads a committee that determines who is classified as an amateur or professional sailor. ISAF’s sailor classification and IT committees have been working on improving the registration process. There are roughly 26,000 sailors registered as either a Category 1 (amateur) or a Category 3 (professional). The criteria to determine who is a professional will be reviewed and possibly modified over the next year. This is a contentious issue because some top-level sailors want to be considered professional, while others believe they’re amateurs.

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A growing number of classes and races use the ISAF classification to determine who is an amateur. Several years ago there was a Category 2 for people who were listed in a “gray” area between pro and amateur. This category proved to be too confusing and was dropped. This issue will take an increasingly high profile in the coming years, however, as we consider new qualification criteria.

ISAF promotes sailing at many levels. The organization’s website (www.sailing.org) has many portals. In between Olympics, ISAF hosts a combined world championship for Olympic classes. ISAF is also involved in running regional games. In the Americas, this is the Pan Am Games. ISAF Sailing World Cup events are held annually at different venues throughout the world. The Executive Committee and staff work to increase funding for these events through international sponsorships.

“The Racing Rules of Sailing” is, and always has been, a massive undertaking. A dedicated committee led by Bernard Bonneau spends all year working on the language in the rules. One current priority is to make the rules more understandable. This committee welcomes input from all sailors. The new rules are published every four years, and many MNAs will publish “The Racing Rules of Sailing” with special prescriptions for their region.

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I encourage any sailor with thoughts on how to improve sailing to reach out to committee members of US Sailing or ISAF’s delegates and representatives. All ideas are considered because it’s not just ISAF’s sport. It’s your sport.

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