World Sailing – What’s happening?

Published on September 24th, 2020

With an election every four years, and a two-term limit, World Sailing’s 2020 Annual Conference will decide whether current president Kim Andersen gets his second term. The Dane has not had an easy first term, and while he must be held accountable, he has also been dogged by curious criticism.

Three candidates oppose Andersen, and in this report by Dan Ibsen, he seeks to shed light on the situation:

The past years World Sailing (WS) has been criticized by a small group of older sailors, now their noise has excelled to new heights via online media and social media. But what is really happening, what is the motivation behind these sailors, what is the background seen from the inside perspective, and from where is the criticism rooted?

The public focus has in my mind been very one-sided on all the different matters, and I strongly feel that there is a need to tell the ‘story’ by also focusing on the background and the political game different persons are playing within World Sailing.

My background is that I have been involved in the work of IYRU/ISAF/World Sailing since the beginning of the 1980s on behalf of Danish Sailing Federation (until 2013), and during the years have experienced five international Presidents – Peter Tallberg, Paul Henderson, Goran Petterson, Carlo Croce, and Kim Andersen.

Additionally, I have witnessed the work in the Executive Board, Council and Committee’s and all the different persons involved at all levels in international sailing, member nations (MNAs), international classes, and regional sailing federations. I have also served as board member in European Sailing Federation for many years, including eight years as Vice President.

To understand the criticism, you need to understand the critics.

The noise makers are Paul Henderson (Canada), former ISAF President; Ser Miang Ng (Singapore), former ISAF Vice President and now IOC Vice President and member of the WS Ethics Commission; Gerardo Seelinger (Spain), part of the ISAF family (the former name of World Sailing) and closely linked to Henderson and Ser Miang Ng; George Wossala (Hungary), Council member, Zvi Ziblat (Israel), former Events Committee Member; and Peter Hall (Canada), Council member.

All of them (except Gerardo Seelinger who did not participate) were supporters of Kim Andersen’s election in 2016, as they were all criticizing the former President Carlo Croce, especially when the past Board and Council wanted to change the Olympic events with short notice for the Tokyo 2020 Games and the uncertainty around the Gazprom sponsor deal.

The group is ultra conservative when it comes to sailing and have unfortunately managed to have a clear hand in World Sailing affairs for too many years. As many sailors know, World Sailing has previously been all about the Olympics, much less about attracting new sailors, gender equality or trying to keep up with the development in society. To ‘qualify’ to be part of this small group of sailors, it seems you need to be +70 to 86 years of age!

So what happened, where did the support go?

The day before the November 2016 World Sailing election in Barcelona, then Presidential candidate Kim Andersen was approached with a strange Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) from George Wossala for him and his proposed VP candidates to sign and in return Wossala would guarantee to get the votes from opposition candidate Paul Henderson.

Kim Andersen refused to make any kind of unethical deal and made it clear that he wants nothing to do with Mr Wossala now or in the future. According to confirmed exchanges, Mr Wossala have since been confronted with the issue and have stated that these kind of practices are acceptable, selling votes you don’t have, and giving commitments you cannot give. So much for ethics and transparency!

After the election in which Kim Andersen won, the new Board appointed the World Sailing Members of the Committees, but due to the difficult composition of the new Board – three members coming from the old board and only one member from the President’s own slate of VPs – the President left the decision for selecting members to the rest of the Board and were only involved in appointing the Chair and Vice Chair of the Committees.

Zvi Ziblat has been a member of the committees for decades, well known normally to resist all changes by voting “reject”, when positive the “abstain” bottom is used. He was not appointed and this instantly upset him, as he supported the new President, he believed he should also maintain his seat in the Events Committee. Zvi Ziblat raged against the new President in the first midyear meeting in May 2017, participating as a Council member alternate.

Ser Miang Ng has publicly criticized the Council’s approved Olympic slate of events for Paris 2024 and been outspoken about the support of the Finn, probably not fitting for an IOC member, but loyal to his group of old connections. He is still serving on the WS Ethics Commission.

Paul Henderson probably needs no further introduction, well known for his opinions against World Sailing and his barrage against the IOC, since he ended his term as WS President in 2004. Normally, a former President should not involve or interfere with the work in the federation where he had served as President for 10 years, instead leaving that to his predecessors. But that has not been the case with ‘the Pope’.

Gerardo Seelinger is well connected to this ultra-conservative network, having tried to be elected as VP several times, and being supported by Ser Miang Ng. The same connection exists today and was lately made clear by a witness statement to the Ethics Commission.

When did the criticism start?

The criticism after the election in 2016 started by disparaging the WS CEO Andy Hunt for more or less everything, without any consideration to the fact that he was hired by the previous Board after they failed in hiring a CEO for two years. While his tenure was challenging, he inherited a mess of an organization to begin with – from the previous Board.

The President is then criticized for not acting on a claim by a group, led by Luca Devoti, on the breach of EU anti-monopoly law. The claim was raised in Italy and at the EU headquarters, however, no official investigation took place and the case was later closed.

Soon after the new regulation 25 was initiated, the Board focused on starting the election of events and equipment for the Summer Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

The new regulation brought a lot of discussions, the sailing community and the World Sailing body all got very agitated and heated – as they always do especially with regard to the Olympic matters – which takes away nearly all focus on all the other important development areas in World Sailing.

And then we get to the situation regarding the 2018 voting to decide the Paris 2024 events. Having read the articles available it strikes that only the “loud version” of the case is heard – was the voting manipulated and was it the right voting system?

Regarding the voting system – the facts are that the systems like the one in question was used before and not only by World Sailing. The specific system was used in all committees during the WS Annual Meeting for nine days leading up to the vote in question, and there was never once a decision that was questioned regarding the voting system, nor were any other issues ever brought up.

The voting pads in question had been used by multiple of members for 10 days in different committees, and by the same people who were questioning it on the day for several other votes without any issues. Could this be a human error?

Regardless, the President and Board decided to investigate all documentation behind the voting process, but finding no malfunctions, they then acknowledge the statement from the members concerned in the meeting minutes and put it to a Council vote for approval. The Council had the option to open a revote, but they did not. They decided to approve the vote, and the issue was put to rest.

The decision by Council was clearly too much for the ‘Ultras’. They were clearly not able to “manage decisions any more” and having lost out on having the Finn Class in the Olympics (a class they are all part of) seemed to be too much for them.

In the beginning of 2019, a claim was issued against CEO Andy Hunt and President Kim Andersen regarding the voting procedure and the following procedures – this claim was later amended with eight new points claiming violation of World Sailing and IOC ethics code and forwarded in May 2019.

As the claim involved Executives and Board members, the council decided in May to give the Ethics Commission the possibility to use independent external investigation officers in order for the executive management and board not to be involved.

The case was handled by an independent Ethics Officer (EO) working pro-bono and reporting to the Ethics Commission chaired by John Fair (NZL).

The EO did not find any grounds for the claim and concluded:

“Pursuant to Regulation 36.10, the EO has decided to take no further action in respect of any of the nine particularized complaints, and therefore, the Complaint as a whole, in accordance with Regulation 36.10(a).”

Another blow to the ‘Ultras’. While it is not surprising, they tried to create a smear campaign against President Andersen by actually reading out the claim via Sailing Illustrated, before it was launched publicly. So much for ethical standards!

The ‘signature’ case.

Then the next case launched was the Sailing Illustrated letter with the signatures of two Board members. When reading some of the mail trails, its again the same ‘Ultras’ and hang arounds who are cheering on accusations against the President as well as the same media connections.

The case itself is a lot to digest, but if you want to read into the case, it is properly covered with all the documents in Scuttlebutt Sailing News. From all the documents, one witness statement from a board member is in my mind especially precise on the background and mistakes made:

“Probably the most important question you asked me was whether the letter containing the incorrect statements being sent to SI damaged World Sailing’s reputation.

“I consider that the incorrect statements in the letter to SI were embarrassing especially as it was sent to SI, who has been very critical and unsupportive of WS over the 4 years that I have been on the Board. Any correction of error could have been handled more effectively if the reactions and subsequent responses by Gary and Scott had been more considered.

“I don’t think that the letter incorrectly stating that the comments attributed to Scott and Gary was damaging to the reputation per se but the resulting actions by Scott and Gary were definitely more problematic for the organization.

“The subsequent public airing of the disagreement between three directors and the announcement of an ethics complaint against the President by them was damaging. The obvious discord between board members and inability to resolve it caused questions from sponsors. In particular the interview by Mikkel Thommessen with Gary, which was recorded and played back over social media extended awareness of the complaint to the Ethics Commission by two board members against the President to a much wider audience.“

“As I said I think there were a number of mistakes made – none of which was intentional or unethical. They are just human errors which occur from time to time.

“The first mistake was Gary and Scott not reviewing the SI broadcast when the concern about misinformation on SI about them was first raised by email to the board on 26th February and identified as a matter the board would discuss in Board in Board only time during the February meeting.

“As a result of this lack of review they couldn’t respond to the queries and points made in Board only time on the 28th February and then couldn’t confirm or otherwise the letter which was drafted overnight and discussed at the Board on the 29th.

“Despite asking for the letter not to be sent until after Gary had reviewed the SI video, he still did not immediately review the video and had not reviewed by the time the letter was sent on March 2.

“The mistake Kim made was to ask the office staff to send the letter assuming that as he had heard nothing that there was no issue. He should have confirmed with Gary and Scott that they had listened to the video and were happy for the letter to be sent.

“Personally I find it very unusual that two board members would make a complaint to the Ethic Commission about another board member in such circumstances and even more disconcerting that they would announce this complaint publicly. There have been questions raised about the rationale for this action, especially given this is an election year but I have no opinion on their motives in this respect and have not been able to discuss with them.“

Now we have in the last months followed the resignation of three Ethics officers, all very clear on a flawed processes led by the Ethics Chairman Dieter Neupert and the fact that the Ethics Commission was being misused by Council and Board members for political motivations.

We have also seen the feedback from the Constitution Committee clearly stating that the Ethics Commission was not constituted according to the regulations and could therefore not make any formal decisions. You might question what responsible chair would not check if he has quorum or not for making decision within in regulations? As a side information, the chair is also member of the Constitution Committee and should know the regulations.

The questions to ask: “Is this a case or not, and why?”

• Why did the Ethics chair not use the possibility to use an truly independent investigating officer? In the first case against the President and the CEO, the World Sailing Council made this possible, to make sure if Board or Executives were involved that the cases could be dealt with outside the political system. In this case two board members and a President are involved.
• Why did the Ethics chair chose not to see the risk when presented with witness statements and mails indicating that there could be a problem?
• Why did the Ethics chair ignore the wittness statement linking Gerardo Seeliger, Josep Pla (President of European Sailing Federation), and Ser Miang Ng (member of the World Sailing Ethics Commission) in the same meeting in Lausanne – planning the campaign for Gerardo Seeliger running against the sitting President?
• How can you ignore a witness statement and appoint an EO specifically named in the witness statement?

When looking at the case you wonder, if there is a case or is the case actually when its brought into the media by the complainant, and you might wonder why an experienced lawyer was overlooking simple practices.

Looking at the “World Sailing farce”and the claims so far, you might ask where is the content? It’s for sure keeping the World Sailing office busy with cases which are surely political and about the old ‘Ultras’ losing power. What a waste of time and resources and more importantly holding back important development opportunities in sailing.

The reconstitution of the Ethics Committee took place in Council on September 18, and while all other proposed members received nearly all votes in Council (31-33), Dieter Neupert as chair divided Council with the following votes: Approve 17, Reject 14, Abstain 2.

But let us also have a look at the next case.

Again, it is interesting to see one more case raised by Mr Wossola. While his previous case was thrown out, a new one has now materialized. When reading all the so-called “news” and “information” publicized, as well as interviews made, they are all building on the same premise – claiming that the President misused money from the Federation or was giving pay back to a specific company TSE Consulting.

Trying to understand the case, it is a struggle to find where the personal gain should be. TSE was hired on an agreement with World Sailing for an amount of hours available per month at a fixed rate, for specific competences.

It was not a fixed contract, its according to what has been said an agreement where it is up to World Sailing to decide how much and when needed. Under the company structure, the CEO is responsible for competences and resources available and must evaluate if any additional resources are necessary.

The new Board actually agreed that resources were needed at their first Board meeting, they also chose to use TSE for a Survey to MNA members preparing a strategy for World Sailing. The new Board could have chosen not to use the resources or to develop a strategy project on their own, but they did not. By the information given on the contract, it sounds like an interim/consulting agreement.

The CEO could also have chosen not to accept the support, he could have rejected it and discussed it with the Board. According to information from Townhall meetings, every payment should be documented with a “timesheet” which reflects the use of each and every hour used and the activities achieved.

Also, as per internal rules of a normal company, you have approval processes in place involving the Board on items not budgeted. As understood in the case of World Sailing, the structure ensured that two Board members are overseeing the financials.

The value added activities were in fact ones needed by World Sailing. Therefore, how could the President – who is a volunteer (and who had a full-time managerial job outside of WS at the time) – take any personal benefit from the TSE agreement?

Why all the claims?

All the complaints have been orchestrated by the same small group of people, and all the complaints have been primarily directed at the incumbent President Kim Andersen, and have been intended to discredit the President ahead of the 2020 election this fall for the President and Vice-Presidents.

The complaints have become a central part of the election campaign, and in this way the opponents have pushed their strategy of discrediting President Kim Andersen, even though two of the complaints have so far been rejected, and the Constitution Committee has stated that the Ethics Commission was not quorate in accordance with the WS Constitutions when dealing with the third complaint.

It is incomprehensible to me how the WS Ethics chair could choose an EO (Josep Pla) who is deeply involved in international sailing policy as President of the European Sailing Federation, and at the same time according to a witness statement connects him directly to both one of the Ethics Commission members (Ser Miang Ng) as well as one of the Presidential candidates (Gerardo Seeliger).

This should have immediately disqualified this person as EO. The Council had already given the Ethics Commission the opportunity to elect an independent external EO, and the Ethics Commission should have done the same in this case. Instead, the actions of the Ethics Commission have been compromised, when three well-estimated members leave the Commission in protest, and this may weaken the Commission’s work in the future.

The fourth complaint against President Kim Andersen in relation to TSE’s involvement with WS is still pending, and the decision will hopefully come before the election campaign starts on 10 October.

“Fair Sailing” is the basis of the racing rules – and good sportsmanship and behavior should also be the basic rule for the political work in World Sailing, as well as election actions for officers.

I also think it’s sad that people who have previously served well in top positions in World Sailing will not recognize that their time is up, and it must be younger generations of sailors who must drive the future of sailing, also on the political scene in World Sailing.

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