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Expectations and volunteerism

Published on February 17th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
It was in April 2020 when I published the State of the Sport in 2020, which came from a presentation I gave that winter to New York Yacht Club. None of us at that meeting knew yet the impact of COVID-19, but 2020 did give us pause to assess the sport.

While I didn’t expect dramatic change to occur once we were unleashed from health regulations, I do go back to that report on occasion to be reminded of the three observations which impact participation in the sport:

• When the cost in time and money to participate exceeds the pleasurable benefit, people seek alternative activities.
• Better isn’t always best, as the natural inclination for improvement slowly eliminates those that choose not to chase the rising bar.
• We are capable of evolving toward extinction.

Each of these focus on the interest to improve, and the impact of that desire. Sailing as a sport is not unique in this inclination, though our ceiling may be higher, and thus the impact may be greater.

While the presentation was focused on those that compete, it is equally relevant to those that allow us to compete – race officials. The desire for good regattas has heightened the qualifications of those that can provide it, and that can impact the pool of available people.

Among those questioning the current landscape is Robert Austin-LaFrance… here is his view:

As a certified US Sailing Race Officer and Regional Judge, I am having a serious discussion with myself as to why anyone would jump through US Sailing’s hoops to officiate at any event now.

I pay US Sailing for courses required to be certified, I pay an annual membership to maintain my certifications, I am required to undergo a regular background investigation, and I am required to be SafeSport certified.

I serve as a Principal Race Officer running races for free, as an RJ to hear protests for free, and I travel to various locations on my own dollar to officiate events. Can you name any other sport in the US, at any level, that does not pay their referees?

Now we are told that the one perk certification gave us, that we were protected from personal liability, does not exist unless we are involved in an event for which US Sailing is the organizing authority.

Rather than making it insanely difficult to be a race official, the national governing body of our sport needs to make creating and maintaining well trained officials a serious priority.

Editor’s note: For information on the coverage that Gowrie Group’s Burgee Program provides for sailing organizations and their members, volunteers, and employees (including their instructors and race committee), the insurance provider has published a new FAQs page to address the most common questions and concerns: click here.

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