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Battle begins for Laser Class authority

Published on March 28th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
With over 215,000 hulls built since it was first conceived and active class associations in over 120 countries around the world, the Laser Class has a massive footprint in the sport of sailing.

Administered by the International Laser Class Association (ILCA), among their responsibilities is to promote and develop Laser class racing in all countries under uniform rules. And critical to those rules is the manufacturing of the boat.

ILCA plays an important part in protecting the Laser design and making sure it isn’t devalued by manufacturing changes. The construction of the Laser is controlled by an agreement between the manufacturers, ILCA and World Sailing, and by the class rules.

Monitoring this agreement is an important part of ILCA’s work, which has prompted the organization’s bombshell announcement that its largest builder, LaserPerformance (LP), breached its manufacturing agreement, leading to the ILCA terminating LP’s right to build boats for the Class.

The ILCA website lists three approved builders with specific territories:

Performance Sailcraft Japan for Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.
Performance Sailcraft Australia for Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, and New Caledonia.
LaserPerformance for Europe, Central America, South America, North America, Far East and Asia (excluding Japan, North Korea, and South Korea), Middle East, Africa, Russia, and all other territories not covered by other builders.

LP has responded to the ILCA by stating:

“ILCA statements are falsehoods and defamatory. We will fully protect and enforce our intellectual rights property, including Laser intellectual property. ILCA offices, now located in Austin, Texas, USA, should be moved back to the UK or EU, where over 75% of active Laser class members and sailors reside, managed by a full-time professional team paid for by the builders through increased plaque fees. LaserPerformance is proud and determined to continue to support Laser sailors and community around the world.”

I understand the termination of LP was based on a serious breach of agreement that occurred very recently, and while they are aware of the potential for legal action, the decision by ILCA came with significant legal advice and they are confident in their position.

Each year, the ILCA publishes a Handbook which is distributed to class members throughout the world, in which it states the guidelines for how the ILCA maintains the measurement rules for the Laser:
The one-design principle is the most important asset of the Laser Class. Its protection is therefore a prime concern for the class. A number of instruments are in place to assure that protection. The most important ones are the Laser Construction Manual (LCM) and the Laser Class Rules.

The LCM is a proprietary, protected document that specifies the manufacturing procedures, standard plugs and tools as well as the raw materials and parts supplied by third parties for the hull, sails and spars. Periodic factory inspections by the class make sure that the manual is strictly adhered to by the builders. These factory inspections are the “measurements” in the traditional sense of sailing.

The class rules specify that nothing can be changed by a sailor on the hull, sail and spars except what is specifically and positively allowed by the rules. At major Laser regattas, there is no measurement in the traditional sense. Instead, a simple inspection is made to assure that only original parts are used and that the boat is rigged according to the rules.

The one-design principle means that all Lasers produced by the approved builders are the same. There should be no differences in performance, quality and fittings used between boats from different manufacturers.

The LCM is the instrument to assure this. It defines in detail the manufacturing procedures, the materials used and the quality assurance procedures mandatory for each builder.
In their announcement, the ILCA stated how they terminated the build agreement with LP after the builder’s refusal to allow inspection of the boats being built in their manufacturing facility as required by that contract.

It is unclear how this situation will impact ILCA’s efforts to remain as the equipment source for the Men’s and Women’s One Person Dinghy events at the Paris 2024 Olympics. The Laser has been continuously used since the 1996 Games but is now competing with three other boat types to fulfill the equipment requirements for the one person event.

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