Watching the Sausage Get Made

Published on November 5th, 2018

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Recreational sailing is like few sports in its reliance on volunteers. No paid referees or professional event organizers. As we take, we give back, and nothing provides significant impact to a local sailing area like boots on the ground.

But leadership is needed from national and international sports federations, and with the 2018 World Sailing Annual Conference coming to the USA, I took the opportunity to witness what occurs behind the fortress walls.

The relevance of World Sailing as an organization is often questioned, and for good reason. There is little cause for the typical recreational sailor to seek its support. It is many steps removed from most sailors, and its focus aims narrowly at areas that seemingly pertain to few.

But as I immersed myself in committee meetings, it was readily apparent how connected the entire sport was to World Sailing. Everything trickles down from the federation‚Ķ it’s just that most of us are too far downstream to see it.

Our sport isn’t getting any simpler. The issues are intricate, the competition is heightened, and the world is massively diverse. But what I witnessed was a tremendous commitment by volunteers, with high levels of expertise, able to navigate this increasingly complex landscape. I was immensely appreciative of their contributions.

However, it must be said, and was said during the conference, that not all standards in our sport should trickle down to all stages of recreational sailing. What is needed at the highest level, to preserve the integrity of the sport amongst the most advanced sailors, adds a burden of complication and cost downstream.

With the ceiling ever rising, one standard does not apply to all. To grow the sport at the bottom we can’t carry the requirements needed at the top. Not every class is an Olympic class. Not every regatta is a World Championship.

World Sailing endured immense criticism in advance of the conference, mostly due to its governance, and often from people with an axe to grind. But facts were often faulty, and the strain to extinguish fires distracting. I was regularly thanked for how Scuttlebutt responsibly handles the issues.

Transparency was a topic about decision making at the conference, but the lack of civility has made transparency challenging. Committee members voting on issues have taken a beating. The right for personal opinion, and the means to host comments online, must also consider and respect the significant and well-intended effort of the volunteers.

Otto von Bismarck, Prince of Bismarck and Duke of Lauenburg, once said, “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” But the opposite can also be said, and as it pertains to the body of volunteers that do the heavy lifting for World Sailing, one should witness the process before criticizing it.

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