The game must survive its players

Published on January 18th, 2015

In his monthly column for Sailing World magazine, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck discusses professionalism in the sport. Here’s an excerpt…

When I was a kid hooked on racing, the sailmakers were the rock stars. They had the panache of being in the industry, creating the sails, and dominating the competition. These were the people that inspired me, the ones I looked up to most.

Fast forward to today, where the best sailors—in general—no longer work for sailmakers. Even the best “sailmakers” don’t necessarily make the sails anymore—they just design or sell them. The best sailors now operate independently, getting paid a daily rate to crew for owners. That’s because there are competitive boat owners willing to offer more compensation to top sailors than can companies that service the sport.

The ISAF Sailor Classification Code was launched as a service to define sailors in either a Group 1 (amateur) or a Group 3 (professional). Events and classes are not under any obligation to use a classification system, but should they wish to do so, the ISAF Code is the only system that shall be used.

The Code is not universally loved. This might be in part because ISAF is not universally loved, but also it is due to how the rules are followed. A person may believe they are a Group 1, which can influence how they complete their classification application. There may be owners that disregard the system to sail with people they prefer, limits be damned.

I am not critical of the professionalism now in the sport; more so just recognizing it. If the rules allow for Group 3 sailors to participate, than people should expect the game to be played that way. If people don’t like the impact of professionalism, they need to change the rules. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

The movement of the sport toward professionalization has been a boon for those who have benefited from it. The challenge at hand, however, is making sure that benefit doesn’t come at the detriment of the big picture. Whatever the rules of the game are, they need to be followed. The game must survive its players.

Read the complete column in the January/February print or iPad edition of Sailing World:

Send comments to Craig Leweck at

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