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Cheating at yacht racing … how honest are you?

Published on June 23rd, 2015

Cheating or mere gamesmanship? The desire to win can lead to what some will regard as crafty fair play where others cry foul. Where would you draw the line? This feature in Yachting World magazine seeks answers to the questions…

In football a dive in the penalty area in search of an easy goal is a regular occurrence – though the risk of a red card may act as a deterrent, the pressure to succeed in any sport can skew judgements. Even a usually level-headed club sailor can fall victim to the ‘red mist’.

If sailing is intended to be a self-policing sport, how is it that some racing classes have an ethic of strict rule observance where miscreants can expect a cold shoulder at the bar if they push their luck, yet others have a free-for-all attitude to cheating at yacht racing, where success for the ‘fleet-elite’ may rely on strong-arm tactics and mutual tolerance?

Bryan Willis is chair of the ISAF Disciplinary Commission and a member of the ISAF Review Board. He has been chairman of the jury and chief umpire for the America’s Cup and the Olympic Games and served on the ISAF Racing Rules Committee for 25 years. He explains it thus:

“Different cultures across the various racing fleets are OK as long as everyone is happy about it – why should we walk in and tell them otherwise? Some classes are very strict while others resolve it at the bar – the problem is when something happens and someone is aggrieved, that’s when we should step in.”

But others believe that there comes a point at which a distinction has to be drawn between crafty sailing and outright cheating.

“The only way is for those who object to protest and let a protest committee determine what is within the rules,” believes Chris Simon, an international judge, national umpire and national race officer. “It is not good that some racing classes have an ethic of strict rule observance while others have a free-for-all. Competitors generally do not realise that their ‘you owe me one’ attitude is unacceptable as the rule breaker affects the whole fleet, not just the boat fouled.”

Where to draw the line?

Close shaves and taking chances when they are presented are all part of the game, but perhaps each competitor has to decide if the standard they set for themselves matches what they expect from their rivals.

For example, minor knocks on the start line can seem trivial, but a question not clearly answered in the rules is whether you should take a penalty every time you think you might have infringed. In the confusion of a busy mark rounding there can be a temptation to sail on and ignore penalty turns even if a collision occurred. But does that matter if no one shouted? – Read on

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