Don’t Overlook Protest Hearings

Published on April 9th, 2018

Whatever friendships form as sailors prepare for the Olympics, all that love gets put on hold during this quadrennial competition. “You owe me one” gets quickly replaced with a protest hail and an appointment with the jury.

David Dellenbaugh, who was the rules advisor for the US Sailing Team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, shares this report from his newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors: Speed & Smarts.

Olympic sailors spend a lot of time training to sail faster, get better starts and improve their boathandling skills, but few spend as much effort learning about rules and protest procedures. That’s a bit surprising because rules often play a big role in high-level events – when there’s a lot at stake, sailors seem more willing to protest even the smallest infractions.

In the 2016 Olympic regatta, for example, there were 109 protest hearings spread across ten classes. That’s an average of 11 protests per class! There were sailors who won medals because they played by the rules on the water and/or did a good job in protests ashore. And there were other sailors who lost medals because they took risks on the race course or did a bad job in protest hearings.

As rules advisor for the U.S. team, I spent a lot of time hanging around the jury room after racing. Here are some of my take-aways:

Look for evidence
‘Evidence’ is the key to proving your case in a hearing. It could be testimony from your crew or a person on another boat who saw the incident. It may be video or a tracker replay of your situation. You can present all of these things at the hearing. Look for this evidence before your hearing; if it was available before the hearing but you didn’t get it, you can’t use that evidence to defend yourself or to reopen the hearing.

Ask for a copy of the protest
This is a simple step that many sailors forget. Before the hearing, you have a right to see a copy of the other party’s written protest, but you must ask the jury for this. Once you get it, you are allowed reasonable time to prepare your defense.

Is the protest valid?
If you are filing a protest, make sure you meet all the requirements for it to be valid. If you are being protested, look over the other party’s form to see if they met the requirements. A written protest, for example, must identify ‘where and when the incident occurred’ (rule 61.2c). In Rio, two protests were found to be invalid because they had the wrong race number (the protestor listed the race number for that day instead of the overall regatta)!

Check the notice board

The official notice board is the ‘bible’ for any information you need to know about protests, so check it often (even if you don’t think you’re involved in a protest). At least two Olympic boats were disqualified from races because they did not see their names posted on the notice board and failed to show up for the hearing.

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