How silence hurts the sport

Published on May 12th, 2021

What’s unique about sailing as a competitive sport is its ability to adapt to a wide variety of boats and interests. There are no four corners to the field or time limit to the game. Whatever the preference, the rules of the game can adapt.

But just like other sports, competition pushes the rules to their limit. However, unlike other sports, sailing is self-governing, reliant on its participants to maintain the integrity of the game. That is both a strength and weakness.

It is easy to get caught up in the urge to excel and lose sight of the privilege to compete, and how the existence of that privilege rests on those that maintain the integrity of the sport.

James Dadd has witnessed the strain on the sport. Through his technical work which has included the Volvo Ocean Race, International Maxi Association, and the IRC rating rule, he has seen how easy it is to lose the plot. Here he shares his sentiment:

It always amazes me how, as a sport, we often see class rules put in place to protect the members being abused by a small number of people, with worse consequences resulting than the original concern. It seems that whenever a class rule is written with the express intention of keeping costs under control, someone always finds a way to get around it that is generally more costly than the impact of the original concern.

We can’t blame professionals entirely for this, as they have to persuade an amateur owner to fund the original scam in the first place. And I do mean scam. What worries me is the short-sighted approach that we have come to expect in our sport.

Whenever I have been involved in writing a class rule, we have always had to discuss how a short-sighted member of our community might abuse that restriction to gain an unfair advantage irrespective of the cost or the purpose of what we are doing. It would be nice if everyone saw and respected the intent of rule writers in protecting and encouraging the fleet as a whole.

Unfortunately, there is always a small number with the wrong intent, and the fleet as a whole then suffers. It seems we can’t help ourselves. Maybe all class rules should start with the words “If you abuse these rules in a way that damages the class, you will respectfully be asked to move along. No comeback, no regrets, just go play somewhere else.”

As Napoleon said, “The world suffers a lot. Not because the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people.” For more on the topic, read our doctrine, The State of the Sport in 2020.

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