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#isafconference – The annual bunfight that is the conference of the world governing body for sailing, the International Sailing Federation(ISAF) gets under way at the start of next month in Palma, Majorca.
Over 400 blazers (including a 13–strong delegation from the Irish Sailing Association) will gather to discuss the burning and not so burning issues of the day, with a system developed in Ireland looking set to be the hottest topic on the agenda. Back in the days when Cork Week grew to be the most popular (if not the most populous) major keelboat regatta of its type in the world, it became clear that there was a demand to distinguish between those who sailed for fun and those who did so for a living. At the heart of the issue were the shouts of "unfair" from the largely amateur crews who saw a creeping influence of contracted-in sailors with a background in sailmaking, high performance events and marine industry related professions. Responding to this unrest, the Royal Cork Yacht Club, led by Donal McClement, developed a system for excluding such "pros" from certain classes of racing. The result was the increasing adoption of the system by race organisers until ISAF decided to call it the "Classification Code" and enshrine it in their regulations where it has been ever since, updated to reflect trends in yacht racing. While it is not perfect, it does have widespread acceptance, so it was quite a shock to ISAF members to discover that submission 025-14 proposes to remove it altogether as an ISAF regulation. It is believed that this is being championed by ISAF President Carlo Croce, under pressure from elements within Italian sailing, where the use of the code is less popular.
ISAF, formerly the International Yacht Racing Union, has a governing process more akin to an old style Soviet politburo than to modern democracy. An executive committee implements the policy decisions of a 40 member Council, which are subject to review at the Annual General Meeting, where the voting body is the member national authorities (MNAs) of each ISAF country. It was this little know wrinkle in the ISAF constitution that allowed the MNAs to overturn Council's decision to include kitesurfing in the 2016 Olympics the 2012 AGM in Dun Laoghaire. Confused? Well you should be, because simple it ain't.
ISAF has layers of governance, but the key policy making body is the ISAF Council, which is made up of representatives from groups of MNAs determined mostly by geography, with a bit of political expediency thrown in. Ireland, for example, in the pre-apartheid era, was in Group A with the UK and South Africa. Now Group A is just UK and Ireland, with South Africa moved to Group Q representing Africa. Group A, with a population of 68 million gets two seats on Council, while Africa, with a population of close to a billion, gets I seat. And therein lies the core of the problem. ISAF is still very much a white, first world, wealthy organisation, with little outreach to the developing world. The Council system perpetuates this by excluding many smaller countries from active participation in policy making. For example, how likely is it that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan will ever get to sit on Council when they are in Group H with Russia and there is only one seat for their group? Or Paraguay, in group N with Brazil, where there is one seat for two countries. Group E combines the Iberian countries, but if Portugal has an outside chance of sitting on Council then Andorra has none. Furthermore, where is the sense in linking Italy and France with Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey? How do they decide who gets the two Council seats there?
The very populous area of South and Central Asia with developing sailing activity gets only one seat, forcing India, Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others to work out who gets to go.
The kite-surfing debacle shows how the smaller countries have fought back against un-mandated Council decisions. In May 2012, at the ISAF mid-year meeting in St Petersburg, the ISAF Council, somewhat inspired by a passionate appeal from Ireland's John Crebbin, voted to introduce kitesurfing into the 2016 Olympics at the expense of windsurfing. He was supported by Gerardo Seeliger representing the Iberian Group. However, at the General Meeting of MNAs in Dun Laoghaire later that year, the individual members voted, under the review clause, to overturn the Council decision. Incidentally, the numbers of MNAs in attendance was considerably swollen by the desire of ISAF Presidential Candidates to get delegates favourable to their cause to the ballot box for the quadrennial Presidential and Executive Committee elections.
Pouring oil on the flames is the fact that once appointed there is no procedure for removing a Council member until the beginning of the next quad. As seen in the kitesurfing debate, where Seeliger, voted in favour of kitesurfing, alledgedly contrary to the wishes of his nominating countries, many Council members not only believe in their independence from national and regional issues, but pride themselves on making decision in the "best interests of the sport." Seeliger's stance on kitesurfing created an uproar in Spanish sailing circles and forced an embarrassing apology from the Spanish Federation to its sailors. Not surprisingly, a submission from Portugal and Spain proposes to amend the regulation to allow for removal of a Council member during term.
That there is unrest amongst the under-represented nations is clear from the source and number of submissions proposing changes to the governance structure. One of these comes from the Executive Committee itself, proposing that a Continental structure be established where each Continental Association would act as the "agent of ISAF in the management and delivery of programs" and be charged with promoting "brand awareness and brand image of ISAF and sailing within each continent." This proposal, which supports the principal of continentalisation, does not propose real change for 12 months, suggesting that Continental Associations first put their own house in order.
There are three submissions supported by a group of 15 MNAs, suggesting that ISAF go further, sooner, in devolving some form of autonomy to the Continental Associations, while two others, from the Cook Islands, Papua NE Guinea and Singapore have the temerity to suggest that ISAF use some of its Olympic revenue to support administration at a more local level.
That there is no call for change from the represented MNAs is not surprising. A seat on Council is highly valued, and, in any case, change would reduce the considerable European influence. Currently, Europe holds 47% of the seats on Council (excluding representative members), while Asia has 17%, North America and the Caribbean 14%, while all of Africa has only one seat (under 3%)
Supporters of the system will argue that representation on Council mirrors the sailing activity around the world. That may be so, but why should we here in Ireland have the same presence as all of Africa? And in a good democracy, shouldn't minority interests have at least the right to be heard?
And the money maybe a thorn in the side for many smaller MNAs as they don't see a huge commitment from ISAF to the development of sailing regionally. There appears to be greater appetite at the Executive Committee for high performance activity than for true development of the sport worldwide. ISAFs championing of the World Cup final in Abu Dhabi is not widely supported by the MNAs, who consider this an unwelcome diversion for sailors on the Olympic trail. Sailors too are split, with support from classes who can easily avail of the supplied boats – Laser, Laser Radial and RS:X – but not from those whose equipment is more sophisticated – Finn, 470, 49er and 49er Fx. ISAF has had to go further down the rankings then intended to fill the limited spots available, negating the claim that the worlds 20 best sailors in each class will be participating.

So where now for ISAF?

Continentalisation may work well for Europe and parts of Asia, where communications and geography are not the barriers they are elsewhere in the world. It can cause local problems – the Americas is a case in point, where Venezuela, geographically part of South America, sails in the Caribbean and would prefer to be grouped with those nations it interacts with regularly.
Some believe that the only way forward is to do away with Council altogether and establish a one country, one seat form of governance that gives everyone a say. However, it is thought that this change is unlikely to come from within, but will require a revolution of sorts, if not through the submission proves then by the elective method. While Council may control policy, it is the MNAs that elect the President and the Executive and growing unrest might well see a reform platform winning the day next time round in 2016. The windsurfing/kitesurfing overturn in Dun Laoghaire in 2012 may have been a landmark decision in more ways than one.

Published in Water Rat

It is important that all classes can aspire to participate in the All Ireland Championships but it needs to be seen to be fair and equitable. Giving pre-emptive qualification rights purely on the basis of numbers attending a class's championships when many are struggling for numbers is the wrong tack says Water Rat because it does little to enhance the stature of the event.

Having looked at the selection of participants from different classes for the All Ireland sailing competiton (formerly theHelmsman's Championships), I wonder if the ISA, the organiser of the event, is concerned at the consequences of the changes they made to the qualification process? There will be obvious delight for some in the pre qualified-entry into the finals but as a regular participant in several other classes I have to observe that important qualitative issues seem to have suffered as a consequence of the new politically correct process. (See below for ISA arrangements).

Without denigrating the abilities of representatives from classes such as the Mermaid, Squib, Water Wags, ICRA, 2 & 3, it is patently silly to determine priority eligibility on a purely numeric fleet size only basis. This is political correctness gone completely mad! For example ICRA Cruisers Zero, the class of our Commodore's Cup squad would never be in with a chance of pre-qualification as the Cruisers Zero fleet of forty foot boats could never muster the same numbers as say a dinghy class.

Expecting people from other competitive classes to make a significant three day commitment for accommodation, entrance fees and damage deposits with the prospect of being eliminated after an afternoon's competition seems grossly unfair and will inevitably discourage attendance by many of the most talented sailors coming from less numerically strong fleets with perhaps the greatest depth of talent.

Under these circumstances it will not be a surprise if many so called 'second' and 'third' tier nominees from extremely competitive but smaller classes ignore participation in the event because of cost and uncertainty of ultimate participation for the last phase. This is because only three places are available from 20 potential candidates from classes such as the highly competitive SB20, Flying Fifteen, 1720, Fireball, J24, RS 200, RS 400, and Dragon, and does not include other strong classes such as the Etchells and J109 who are on a waiting list for an opportunity to qualify. The competitive National 18s (who had fifty boats for a 2011 anniversary event) don't even get a mention!

The event also known as the 'All Ireland Sailing Championships' and 'the Champion of Champions Event' has had many changes over its 60–year lifespan but change needs to be made carefully and for the right reasons.

If ever there was an example of unexpected consequences from well intentioned changes to what was acknowledged as a system which was not working, is this it?

Please let us know your views in the comments box below

ALL IRELAND SAILING 2012 (from ISA Website on September 7th 2012)

The ISA is delighted to announce that the ISA Senior All Ireland Sailing Championship will take place in Lough Derg Yacht Club from the 5th to the 7th of October.

Invitations have also been sent to selected nominees as follows:

The first group have been invited directly to the final series on Saturday from Stage One:

Stage One

2011 Champion George Kenefick

Wild Card (TBA)

Wild Card (TBA)

Top 3 Dinghy & Keelboat Classes

Laser Radial *

Laser *

Mermaid *

Squib *

ICRA '2' *

ICRA '3' *

Next 4 from combined Dinghy & Keelboat Classes


Shannon OD


Water Wag

Stage Two Qualifier - Friday

Junior Champion

Laser SB20




ICRA '1'




RS Elite

Sigma 33


First 31.7




Waiting for Qualifier place:

Howth 17


ICRA '0'



The names with an * are from the top three dinghy and keelboat classes by number. Only these classes are allowed to pass an invite to the next nominee from their class as far as third place. The next group are in the qualifier with at least three places available. Followed by the waiting list who will move up as those become available.

Published in Water Rat

About boot Düsseldorf: With almost 250,000 visitors, boot Düsseldorf is the world's largest boat and water sports fair and every year in January the “meeting place" for the entire industry. From 18 to 26 January 2020, around 2,000 exhibitors will be presenting their interesting new products, attractive further developments and maritime equipment. This means that the complete market will be on site in Düsseldorf and will be inviting visitors on nine days of the fair to an exciting journey through the entire world of water sports in 17 exhibition halls covering 220,000 square meters. With a focus on boats and yachts, engines and engine technology, equipment and accessories, services, canoes, kayaks, kitesurfing, rowing, diving, surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, SUP, fishing, maritime art, marinas, water sports facilities as well as beach resorts and charter, there is something for every water sports enthusiast.

At A Glance – Boot Dusseldorf 

Messe Düsseldorf GmbH
40474 Düsseldorf
Tel: +49 211 4560-01
Fax: +49 211 4560-668

The first boats and yachts will once again be arriving in December via the Rhine.

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