Prestigious award needs a better system

Published on November 5th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
My involvement in the US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman & Yachtswoman of the Year Awards selection process has taught me how hard it is to evaluate the ever widening range of sailing competitions in the sport.

When voting on the merits of these accomplishments, it is necessary to really drill into the details, which is done by a committee of sailing media. Thankfully, the scope of my day job makes this task easier, but I have witnessed how other factors can influence the voting group.

This has been my concern about the selection of the Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, which is presented as the most prestigious award of recognition in the sport of sailing.

Once the nominees are received, a committee within World Sailing promotes a shortlist of the most worthy men and women. But since the awards’ inception in 1994, World Sailing has tried different methods in selecting the final winners.

Initially the voting had been done by the Member National Authorities (MNAs) of World Sailing, but that was changed for the 2015 winners when half the vote came from the MNAs while the other half came from the attendees at the awards ceremony annually held during the World Sailing Annual Conference.

Then in 2016 and 2017, the vote was divided among MNAs, attendees at the awards ceremony, and by public vote. This was refined for 2018 in which the public vote contributed 30% of the overall vote with MNAs making up the final 70%.

The plan was changed again for the 2019 award in which the public vote contributed to 50% of the overall count with the remaining 50% decided by MNAs.

While I am not saying the 2019 winners weren’t deserving, the problem is that in the absence of detailed knowledge of the events and competitors, votes get cast by popularity and territory, neither great indicators of winner worthiness.

This all comes to mind as I watched the latest season of Dancing With The Stars which advances contestants through a combined judge and public vote. Easily the worst dancer has been former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, yet he remains while half of the original 12 dancers have been eliminated.

The judges have given him appropriately low scores but the public vote is saving him and eliminating better competitors. What protects the World Sailing system from similar failure is the worthiness of the shortlist such that the voting can’t screw it up like this television show, but improvement is still needed.

The pretense of the US system is good in which the selection committee are sailing media, and throughout the world there are enough skilled and knowledgeable people in the profession to advance the best candidates. Hopefully 2020 will see this immense award have a system of similar honor.

Comment: Since I wrote this report, US Sailing has announced the US Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Award will now have a public vote feature. – Craig Leweck

Here’s a video from the 2019 Rolex World Sailor of the Year ceremony.


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