Improving the award system

Published on October 25th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Despite the massive subjectivity involved, and the lack of guidelines with which to utilize, I remain a fan of annual awards recognizing elite achievement. They provide a highlight moment, offer a historic remembrance, and bring together the diversity in the sport. All good.

I have a long history as a voting member for US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards. I work hard to choose the most deserving, and dig deep into the details, which is a job made easier as Scuttlebutt editor.

The accumulation of accomplishments must be measured by the quality of participants, plus ti is necessary to factor in other variables such as venue, boat type, fleet size, and contribution toward accomplishment. Removing bias is vital too. Tall order, and despite my best efforts, it is not often my selections earn the award.

For the past two years, I have faced the same challenges as a selection committee member of the Male and Female Rolex World Sailor of the Year awards. The quality of the international candidates is quite high but the factors to consider remain the same, and I am gratified my choices have always won the award.

I am particularly pleased about the 2022 winners, the unstoppable Nacra 17 duo Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti (ITA), as the growth of mixed classes does not mesh well with the award. The precedent of both skipper and crew earning the male or female award has been set when they are both of the same gender, and their notable accomplishments were done as a team.

However, for the 2016 winners, which during an Olympic year are historically selected from gold medalists, the problem arose when Mixed Multihull gold medalist Santiago Lange won the male award, but his crew Cecilia Carranza Saroli could not join him. She was on the female ballot, but lost out to Women’s Two Person Dinghy gold medalists Hannah Mills/ Saskia Clark (GBR).

This was not fair for Cecilia in 2016, so for 2022 with Tita winning the male award as helm and Banti winning the female award as crew, I am thrilled at the outcome as their accomplishments were remarkable, but I am equally surprised that other voters joined me in choosing Banti over women in helm positions.

History was not on Banti’s side, and it is immensely unfair for mixed teams to not have the same opportunity to both win the award as same sex teams. Working within the current award system in 2023, only helms should be named as winning Rolex World Sailor of the Year awards. This may be unfair to crew based on previous precedents, but it is at least equally unfair for crew in same sex and mixed teams.

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