Working Diligently to Improve the Sport

Published on April 18th, 2016

Gene McCarthy of Chicago, IL submitted the following comments about US Sailing, the governing body for the sport of sailing in the United States:

Has the nationalizing of sail racing by US Sailing diminished participation in the sport? Consider that before the two major bylaw changes, ten years ago and three years ago, over 300 volunteers attended the semiannual and annual meetings at their own expense to bring information to the meetings and to take home newly acquired information.

These folks felt empowered that they were able to promote the sport, but now with the greatly reduced US Sailing volunteer structure, not enough people attend these meetings anymore as they find that employees of US Sailing are telling them and the whole sail racing community how to conduct the sport.

Also, the offshore community was sacrificed so that US Sailing could create national teams to head to the Olympics. To accomplish this everyone had to become “certified”. The great white father is telling us what to do. I believe some racers resent this. I lived through the glory days of sail racing 1960 to 1990’s.

Bruce J. Burton, President of US Sailing, offers this response:
US Sailing welcomes the opportunity to respond to Mr. McCarthy’s statements regarding sailing in the United States and the strategic direction of US Sailing over the last decade.

There have been many articles and books written over the past ten years about our sport (and many others) and the decline in participation at all age levels. Certainly, the national governing body of any sport can affect a sport’s participation levels, so examination of what US Sailing has done over the past ten years that may have affected participation in our sport is appropriate.

First, there has been no “nationalization of sail racing” in the United States as Mr. McCarthy states. Objective evidence of nationalization would be legislated mandatory membership for 100% of the sailors in US Sailing, like the sailors are in Great Britain (UK). In the UK every sailor must be a member of their “national governing body” and their Olympic team is paid for by their federal lottery system. The United States is 180 degrees the opposite: voluntary membership in US Sailing and our Olympic Team is paid for by voluntary contributions to the US Olympic Committee and US Sailing.

The bylaw changes at US Sailing that have been made over the past ten years have been deliberately designed to reduce the amount of “top down” leadership and empower the chairmen of the divisions and the grass roots efforts of our sailors to be more responsive to the sport’s needs. We had over 40 members on our Board at one time, which may have been very appropriate then, and now have 16. This is the exact opposite of “nationalization.”

Mr. McCarthy’s statement about the trend in participation at national conferences is not true. The conferences have been reformatted so that we now have nearly 600 people attending the National Conference and Sailing Leadership Forum (San Diego, 2016 and 2014) when we used to have less than 300. The range of topics is much broader, the presenters are more diverse and, frankly, the parties are much, much better. US Sailing members have leveraged technology so that face-to-face meetings are required much less and all of us have saved a lot of money on airfare because of this. The net impact of these new meeting formats is that more people from more organizations are participating and everyone leaves the conferences with much more energy to “go out and sell our sport” than they ever have.

Offshore sailing has been a key focus at US Sailing for the past five years. We have invested more money and effort in strengthening our support of offshore sailing than any other division at US Sailing. We have partnered with SAP, who are developing breakthrough technology products and administrative services for offshore sailors. SAP has been one of the most generous partners any sport could have and we are grateful for their leadership in our sport.

In the US we have many choices for offshore measurement rules: PHRF, ORR, IRC, ORC and HPR. If we wanted to “nationalize” the sport we would force all race organizers to use just one rule. In our mind that would not be fair to the rule owners, race organizers or sailors. They should be able choose what rule is best for their boats and their regattas. Not one dime has been taken from the offshore budget to support the US Olympic Sailing Team.

Our Olympic Sailing Team will be put to its quadrennial test in August in Rio and they are supported through voluntary contributions, not the dues of US Sailing members.

People who choose to administer our sport are required to become certified in their area of interest and expertise (I like that my doctor has to pass tests to practice medicine). This is necessary for uniformity (quality) and safety for all sailors. I remember 40 years ago as a college sailor home on summer break and sailing in our local regattas on the weekends. The starting lines were not the right length, not square and half the time the flags would not be hoisted with the cannon. The judges in the protest room did not know the rules as well as I did. Now, 40 years later, local race officiating is as good as what would have been at a National or North American Championship back then. There has been significant progress made so that all sailors can travel anywhere in the US and know that the races they will sail in will be expertly run and judged fairly.

This is great progress and I am thankful to all US Sailing members and leaders over the past 40 years for working so diligently to improve our sport.

CLARIFICATION: I would like to correct an inaccuracy where I stated that every sailor in the UK must be a member of their National Governing Body. While it is the case in some countries that those competing are required to join their governing body, this is not the case in the UK. The RYA has similar parameters around membership as US Sailing, where a percentage of sailors are members due to certifications and participation in certain sanctioned events, but the vast majority of members join voluntarily to support the sport. We are very grateful to all our members – voluntary or otherwise – who support US Sailing and the important work the organization does to sustain and advance the sport. Thank you. – Bruce J. Burton, President of US Sailing

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