Concern that ISAF proposal will cause chaos in the sport

Published on September 23rd, 2014

Every year ISAF solicits opinions from their member national authorities to help decide how to improve the game of sailing. Submissions are made in August, are assigned to their relevant committees for consideration, and are debated in November at the Annual Meeting. After deliberation, committees bring their proposals to the ISAF Council, who then vote on whether to adopt these recommendations into the Rules.

The ISAF Executive Committee can also bring items in front of the Council, and one of their submission offered this year is a shocker. ISAF is proposing to eliminate the Classification system used to define “professional” and “amateur” sailors and let the classes and events manage it themselves.

For ISAF to be the target of criticism for being out of touch with the sport is nothing new, but this proposal has some real dangers.

For nearly two decades, dozens of classes and events have used the ISAF Sailor Classification system to help shape the kind of sailors they want racing by helping to define the difference between someone who races as a pastime or as a profession.

And more than just defining this code, ISAF has developed and refined a free-access, web-based system to administer and manage it as well, with 100,000+ sailors from 216 countries using the system.

The system is not perfect, and has come under fire at various times for applying the definitions in ways that don’t always seem fair, such as mixing the truly pro sailors who are making a living at racing with those who are not getting paid directly but may work in the industry and can make a boat go fast.

But this has evolved, improved and become more consistent with time, and most classes are happy with its application and use so that a Group 1 (“amateur”) sailor in one class is assured to have similar status in another class.

The ISAF Executive’s claim that classes and events should take this on their own is completely disconnected from an important fundamental virtue of this system: its uniformity in use across all classes and events.

A list of classes that use Classification includes any international class with a Corinthian Trophy (eg, Melges 24 class), as well as Farr 30’s, J/70’s, Melges 32’s, J/105’s, J/111’s, Beneteau 36.7’s, Farr 40’s, J/44’s and RC 44’s.

The Farr 40 Class, which has remained at the pinnacle of competitive sailing in part for its insistence on the pro-am character of its teams, and its reliance on classifications done by ISAF. Farr 40 class manager Geoff Stagg was adamantly opposed to this change. “What? Are they nuts? This system is central to the appeal of our class, and without it there would be chaos. It would be impossible for us to manage crew lists and ensure the integrity of our rules. I am deeply concerned about this, as I’m sure my class members will be as well.”

Events also use the system, such as the Newport-Bermuda Race to qualify their St David’s Lighthouse division entries, and the ORC uses it for their Corinthian Trophies awarded at World and Continental championship events.

Former Classification Commission chairman Antony Matusch put it simply: “If carried, this submission will cause chaos. Approved submissions come into force the day they are approved, so as written there is not even a handover period! This will be a disaster to all sorts of events. Furthermore, ISAF took over from US Sailing and the RYA because there was no coordination of policy or of events. Americans coming to Europe needed a second classification from the US and vice versa. And that was when classification was not widespread.”

As for what is motivating ISAF to advocate this change, Matusch says, “What this says of ISAF is that there is absolutely no interest at the top in anything other than Olympics, Olympics and Olympics. Keelboat racing, Corinthian sailing etc are, and have been for a long time, completely ignored and not understood. This is an attack on Corinthian and keelboat sailing from an out-of-touch elite.”

Additional information:
ISAF SubmissionAnnual MeetingISAF Classification CodeContact ISAF

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