World Sailing plagued with conflict

Published on January 3rd, 2023

Most people can sail throughout their life without caring about the international authority of the sport – World Sailing. Aside from maintaining the racing rules, the organization is mostly focused on elite competition, and seemingly struggles with much else.

When Kim Andersen (above) began his first four-year term as World Sailing President in 2016, there was a wind shift. He was communicative, sought greater transparency, and Scuttlebutt did its best to leverage the moment. But this was also an era of overspending by the organization, and it would seem how Andersen’s style was not for everyone.

The World Sailing President can have two terms, and most do, but Andersen lost his bid for a second term in 2020 amid accusations of unethical behavior. Andersen felt wronged, and now two years later, 1976 Olympian Dan Ibsen and past Secretary General of the Danish Sailing Federation, provides another chapter to this messy saga:

Kim Andersen’s complaints against two former members of the World Sailing Ethics Commission have now been settled – after more than 2 years of processing. On 30 December, World Sailing published the final decision of the Independent Appeal Panel, which was finalized on 29 November 2022.

The decision of the independent appeal body means that Andersen’s complaints against two then members of the World Sailing Ethics Commission were fully justified. Both defendants from the ethics committee have been found guilty of the charges against them of “conflict of interest”, as they handled complaints against and from Andersen in 2020.

His complaints against the two committee members were submitted on September 25, 2020, a month before the decisive presidential election, in which Andersen ran for a new 4-year term, but lost the election to the Chinese Quanhai Li by a margin of few votes.

It is therefore overwhelmingly likely that the complaints against him, and in particular the way they were handled within World Sailing, harmed his chance of re-election. In its decision, the independent appeal panel substantiates this in particular with this very telling comment:

“This case was by no means straightforward. It is clear that this case was highly politicized within World Sailing and related to governance issues in relation to the operation and functioning of the Ethics Commission. The Disciplinary Investigation Officer noted that the allegations against Mr. Anderson at the time, which was not substantiated, but which caused damage to his reputation, and which Mr. Anderson complained with good cause, showed that there had been a campaign to influence the election and damage his reputation.”

This exposes a very serious problem in World Sailing as an international sports organization, not least when it is possible for members of an ethics commission to act in a way that will be decisive for a presidential election.

World Sailing has subsequently changed the rules for handling such complaints, but it is even more crucial to be able to establish procedures so that in the future you can avoid dishonest people being elected to important positions.

Scuttlebutt already focused on this problem in two articles in September and October 2020 before the elections:
World Sailing – What’s happening
Worst elections ever for World Sailing

The chairman of the ethics committee failed completely
In 2020, Dieter Neupert was acting chairman of the ethics commission, which dealt with a number of complaints against Andersen in the period leading up to and immediately after the presidential election in autumn 2020.

At the same time, the commission rejected Andersen’s fully justified complaints against two of its members about “conflict of interest ”. The two members of Ethics Commission should have resigned immediately when doubts were raised about their competence, because you never should og can judge your own competence.

The charge against Dieter Neupert was that he failed to completely identify and deal with any apparent conflicts of interest in three cases, from the time the fourth case was filed. Furthermore, he made potentially defamatory remarks against Anderson before the Ethics Commission and members of the World Sailing Executive regarding correspondence in the matter to Andersen.

His actions constituted serious misconduct in particular by failing to operate with the utmost integrity, honesty, and accountability, as well as acting in a manner likely to compromise the impartiality of the Ethics Commission.

IOC Vice President in abuse of power
The other member of the ethics commission Ser Miang Ng – who is also vice-president of the IOC – was accused of the same as Dieter Neupert in relation to breaking World Sailing principles for “conflict of interest”, and thus also compromising the impartiality of the ethics commission.

At the same time, Ser Miang failed to answer questions from two different Disciplinary Investigation Officers during the long course of the case as they conducted their investigations, but there was no way he could be forced to cooperate.

Three previous cases dismissed and withdrawn
Complaint No. 1 against Andersen concerned the voting procedure in relation to the Finn dinghy when it was eliminated from the Olympic program – the case was dismissed.
Complaint No. 2 against Andersen was the so-called “signature case.” The first decision was rejected as the ‘investigating officer’ was not impartial. The case was therefore supposed to go over, but was previously withdrawn.
Complaint No. 3 against Andersen was the so-called “TSE case”, which on re-examination in the new ethics committee set up after the presidential committee rejected the decision of the ‘investigating officer’ and the case was thus dismissed. The complainant appealed this decision, but it was also rejected.

World Sailing has to the best of our knowledge never published the reports in these three cases, and thus never gave Andersen the respect it should by clearing his name and making full redress for the way he was treated during the entire run up to the presidential election and in the past two years until publication of the last judgement on December 30, 2022.

And it seems strange that the ruling is available at the end of November, but is only published more than a month later with a short announcement and a link to the verdict, on December 30th in the middle of a holiday period.

During the past two years, I have sent numerous emails to World Sailing requesting info about when they expected the different judgements in the four cases. They never answered or sent any info. In my opinion this is a total lack of respect for the sailors and the media, and its ”bad governance” in an organization which claims to be modern and transparent.

What is the punishment?
The independent panel, after carefully considering all the evidence and statements, imposed the following sanctions on Mr. Dieter Neupert and Mr. Ser Miang Ng: 1) A warning and 2) a fine of €1,000 Euro. No order has been made as to the costs of the case.

This decision is final and binding for the parties involved, as the parties in accordance with proceedings have acknowledged that they have waived their right to any appeal, review or complaint to any state court or other judicial authority, subject to statutory or other rights.

The independent panel has been composed of three highly esteemed and highly experienced sports lawyers with no involvement in World Sailing’s organization and political work, ensuring proper and impartial handling of serious complaints.

To read the entire Independent Appeal Panel’s decision, click here.

A genuine scandal
The entire run-up to the presidential election campaign in 2020 was the worst and most ugly ever in the history of World Sailing, being completely overshadowed by political intrigue and the complaints against Andersen.

Mudslinging, dirty tricks, accusations, and declarations were in the air, and it was certainly not pretty what the world witnessed just days before the World Sailing presidential election, where World Sailing also officially came out and condemned the actions of an IOC Vice President.

And the fact that a so-called impartial appeal body turned out to be highly politicized, and thus could damage a presidential candidate’s reputation, campaign and opportunity to be elected, is a real scandal in the sports world.

Andersen deserves to have his name cleared from all the numerous accusations, the baseless cases against him as well as the scandalous treatment he has received both from political competitors and not least two members of the former Ethics Commission – one of the an IOC Vice President – at the time, who have grossly abused their positions and politicized World Sailing presidential election and been at the forefront of a smear campaign against Andersen.

Sailors can only hope that this never will happen again in our Sport.

Editor’s note: Additional information can be found on inside the games.

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