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Doug Sloan: Leading the jury at the ISAF Sailing World Cup

Published on December 14th, 2014

DOUG SLOANAs the first event of the ISAF Sailing World Cup season for 2014-15, the event in Melbourne, Australia attracted all ten Olympic events and two of the Paralympic classes. Key to event is the jury, with jury chair Doug Sloan leading a volunteer team of nine international and national judges tasked with the mammoth job of providing the event’s 800 competitors with a level playing field.

In this report, Sloan explained the background to how he selects his Sailing World Cup team, how he moulds them into a cohesive and effective working team and then how they operate.

His first step was to establish the cultural needs of the Melbourne jury. The regatta has sailors from 33 countries all subject to the same set of racing rules, but those rules don’t take into account cultural differences. Sloan says it’s important for the jury to have the capacity to work through cultural issues to achieve the best outcome for the sailors. “When you look at this jury you see the map develop. We have jurors from Japan, Singapore, Australian, Denmark and America. What we have is a jury that geographically represents the competitors.”

Sloan hand-picked his jury so he can ensure the team can manage the highly technical aspect of World Cup-level racing. “I always want one judge who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s, but I don’t want to have two because with two, they argue all the time. It’s also good to have someone who can make the hard decisions as well as a peace-maker on the jury.

“Then, with this type of event we need an expert in the on-water work. You also have to have someone who can make 10 people from different cultures work together effectively, a leader, and that is my job. That’s the core of the jury. Then I can pull in others such as a class experts if we are having an issue with a particular class.”

The age of the jurors varies, but one key element Sloan insists on is that the majority of them are still racing. “Many of these judges have raced since they were teenagers; I started at seven years of age. The first thing that makes a good judge is that they’ve sailed their whole life, and want to give back to this sport they love. This is something you don’t learn just reading a book. Practical experience is critical. I race all the time which keeps me thinking as a competitor.”

The last piece of the selection process is ensuring judges are reasonably fit. He looks for people who can handle bouncing around in a RIB all day, regardless of the elements, while managing the tasks of observing, making snap decisions, raising flags and blowing whistles.

Once the selected team is in place Sloan moves into the role of team manager and establishing the guidelines and responsibilities for the smooth operation of the jury.

Their first day, before the regatta begins, is spent dealing with operational issues. “What a lot of people don’t see is the organisation that it takes to get the jury to do the functional job. If I am at an event for six days, I will probably spend six days preparing for it to make sure I have all the information we need. Before the regatta starts we will then meet for seven to eight hours where we go over a tremendous amount of material. By the time the racing starts we are all functioning at the same level.”

Once the racing starts, the jury then meet each morning for the “judges Uni” before they head out on the water for the day.

“In most events everyone brings their own expertise and then everyone does their job. But for this event we do more. I started two years ago something we called the judges Uni. I decided since we had tons of talent in the protest room coming from all over the world, let’s not waste this talent. We help each other, work together and learn little tricks from each other to achieve better practices.

“Every morning for the first half hour we have a judges Uni meeting. The topics this year are different from last year. The whole idea is looking at what are the new, latest, greatest, best practices, and one of our experts in that area speaks on one topic. It gets everybody working at a higher level,” Sloan said.

“Another reason I do this is to make the best judges want to attend this event as they know they are not only coming to judge, they are also walking away knowing more than they came with.”

The jury is on the water every day and under pressure to work their brain as quickly as possible as they deal with a large number of details coming at them at high speed. “You have to get it right as often there is a helicopter overhead filming everything you do and coach boats with their Go Pro cameras. It’s like playing football, but we don’t get a replay, so you have to get it right. It’s a good challenge and it’s really fun.”

Back onshore the jury are ensconced in the protest room for as long as it takes for them to resolve and deliberate on protest and redress issues.

The team doesn’t spend a lot of time with the sailors outside of the jury room. Sloan is adamant that the jury walk the boat park daily in pairs, with no two from the same country, in order to be friendly with the competitors and answer rules questions. “But we don’t socialise with the competitors as others may perceive that we would show favouritism. We are friendly to the competitors and try to answer technical questions so the sailors can avoid the protest room. Our job is to provide them a service.”

In between the seriousness of judging and the protest room, the judges do enjoy their moments of humour among the group of very bright and highly educated individuals. “These are some of the cleverest people I know. During a race it is intense, but in between we sit back and laugh. It helps you to de-stress and re-set your brain.”

The friendships among the judges run deep. Their life-long connections are built on meeting like-minded individuals and working with them every other month in an intellectually intense environment, somewhere in the sailing world.

Once the regatta is over the judges disperse back to their corner of the globe and Sloan heads back to San Francisco to race J-70s, IODs, and improve his kiting until the next regatta somewhere else in the world.

Report by Tracey Johnstone/ ISAF Sailing World Cup. Photo of Doug Sloan by Chuck Lantz.

Background: ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne (Dec. 8-14) is the first qualification regatta for the 2015 ISAF Sailing World Cup Final scheduled for October 29 – November 1 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Melbourne gold medallists in each Olympic event will qualify for the World Cup Final. After Melbourne the season includes stops in the USA, France, Great Britain and an Asian venue. The ISAF Sailing World Cup is open to the sailing classes (equipment) chosen for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions.

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