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IS THE ‘FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE’ STILL RELEVANT?
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Mar 24, 2011, 7:48 AM

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By Peter Wilson, US SAILING Umpire/Senior Judge

As a racing sailor who is also a coach, judge and umpire, I worry that the ‘fundamental principle’ which is the foundation of our (mostly) ‘self regulating’ sport has become significantly less relevant. As a consequence, our racing rules appear to have less value to competitors, and the behavior we expect these rules to encourage is not as prevalent as it used to be.

Quoting from the RRS, “Competitors in the sport of sailing are governed by a body of rules that they are expected to follow and enforce. A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire.” Most of us would agree that this means; 1) If I hit a mark and whether someone sees me do it or not, I should take a one-turn penalty; 2) If I tack to port because I can’t fetch the starting pin and force a boat on starboard to tack when she can fetch, I should take a two-turns penalty whether or not the other boat hails protest; and 3) If a boat fouls me in a way that significantly worsens my position in the race, I should enforce the rules and protest.

However, what I have observed on the race course over the past fifteen years, in the U.S. and abroad, is a growing percentage of sailors who do not enforce and follow the rules. I see sailors break rules with contact between boats and ignore their infraction, even when the other boat protests or the infringing boat gains an advantage in a flagrant foul. I am not talking about incidents where who is at fault is unclear and no penalty turns are taken or no one is protested. We all do that from time to time. I’m talking about the apparent trend towards an obvious level of clear infractions with no action by either party. What seems puzzling is, if it is so easy to exonerate, why does it happen so seldom? Why do sailors break rules and keep on sailing if no one protests? Why do sailors use kinetics when there are no judges around? And a related question is, why aren’t there more protests taken to the room? Are the rules not as relevant in today’s world as they used to be?

Perhaps the best analogy is speeding on the highway. Lots of us drive above the speed limit. But when the radar detector says we are approaching a trap, or we see a cop parked up ahead or coming up behind us, we slow down. But most of the time, the ‘speeders’ speed. Similarly, when there are judges or umpires enforcing Rule 42 (kinetics) on the water, body pumping, rocking, and sculling seem to disappear when the judge boats are close by, but they often reappear when the judge moves on to observe other boats. And, when judges whistle their observation of a foul with the option to protest, competitors usually take their penalty…and when the judges are not around (or don’t whistle/protest), not much happens. Just like speeding, it seems as if one doesn’t break a rule unless an official says we do. -- Read on: http://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/news/11/0317/


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Mar 24, 2011, 7:49 AM

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From David P. Bishop:
I have not noticed the trend noted in Peter Wilson's article (in Scuttlebutt 3302) to the extent that he has, but my sailing is limited to adult, primarily amateur events, where it is not as much a trend as an ongoing situation. Of the possible causes he noted the primary one is the fourth.

Why miss the party to protest someone when the outcome doesn't affect your standings? In the San Diego NOOD this weekend, the boat I was crewing on was fouled twice, once with minor contact, but the owner chose not to protest as it was not worth the hassle, and would not affect our abysmal standings.

The problem with this approach is that in many cases, the protest room is the only way some people learn the rules. In both of our cases, the protested boat believed, or at least claimed they believed, they had rights that they did not.

One possible solution to this problem would be a second category of protest, the Educational Protest. This would be a protest hearing without penalty conducted in public as part of the party, with visual aids on a large screen if available and raucous commentary from the public invited. The rules could be explained, the offending party gently pilloried, and no one would have to miss out on the social activities.


From Rob Britton:
Peter Wilson may not remember that 40 years ago many of us became yacht racers because it was such an "elitist" sport that the players enforced their own rules. The reality then was that only a complete fool would invest so much time and money, and then cheat to win a pickle dish. Of course nobody got paid in those days and the penalty for breaking a rule was to sail directly home. Gentlemen and ladies of the time were humiliated to be seen as cheaters, and would err on the side of caution, lest they lose the respect of their competitors.

In the time of USYRU and "Corinthian" Yacht Racing, I do not remember rule compliance as an issue. Attempts to expand the market by dummying down the rules and penalties have not been helpful. The values that made yacht racing great are not "common", they are Nobel, and we should return to them before we must arm umpires with cameras and Yacht Club guards with nightsticks.


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Mar 24, 2011, 7:50 AM

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From Theodor Beier:
When I started racing in 1953, the penalty for a foul was retiring, which I have done because my mentors taught that that was proper. Later, I remember much debate at then USYRU meetings when the penalty was changed to two turns as being much too lenient. The goal was rule compliance, but history demonstrated that it largely failed.

The situation now is a result of our "winning is all that matters" society that is involved in training recent generations. I began seeing this in running and judging events for certain international classes in the 1980s.

Sailing should NOT reduce expectations and standards. There are other actions that US Sailing and race officials can do to encourage compliance:

1. Emphasize the arbitration system and recommend its use to be mandatory. This will streamline protest hearing activity.

2. Reinstate the rule that if there is boat contact and no protest is filed nor penalty accepted, both boats be disqualified.

3. Publicize a link between the "I'll let you go if you let me go" attitude and Rule 69.

4. Limit the number of witnesses that a party to a protest may call, and make it stated policy to permit the jury to dismiss a witness that is not adding anything.

5. Make provisions for judges to use Rule 44.1(b) without a hearing similar to Rule 42, and make 44.1(b) a DNE offense.

6. Do not require a hearing to be stopped for no flag or failure to say the word protest.


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Mar 24, 2011, 7:52 AM

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From Tom Arthur, New Zealand:
I was interested to read Peter Wilson’s article in issue 3302, titled Fundamental Principal and am glad to see this issue highlighted. As a dinghy sailor and also a radio controlled yacht sailor this problem is particularly bad in RC yachting in my location. Although it is far more difficult to ascertain infringements when several RC yachts are trying to round marks than when sitting in the boat, there are still lots of occasions when blatant non-compliance of the rules takes place.

In our club it has reached the stage where some of the members who insist on sailing to the rules, have split off to sail with likeminded sailors because the friction generated trying to get the non-rules sailors to comply is too hard. We have decided to leave them to sail as they wish so we can enjoy our sport in peace.

I see this problem as the biggest one our club faces and it has had the result of a loose segregation with one group of rules compliant sailors sailing in officially administered racing on the weekends and another group who sail mid-week where rules compliance is more relaxed. Interestingly the latter group outnumbers the former which is a concern.


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Mar 24, 2011, 8:06 AM

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From Cole:

I read Peter’s article and found it very interesting that there is a parallel in my previous sport of Motor Racing.

Let me elaborate; Several years ago I was a Drag racer. Typically considered a “blue-collar” sport and definitely not what most would call a Gentlemen’s sport.

In actuality the folks I raced with were gentlemen, and respectful of each-other, and each-other’s property. Then I saw a change, the “roundy-rounders” (stock-car racers, NASCAR types) started getting into drag racing. Partly because they knew how to build good strong and reliable engines, and also because they realized that it was cheaper (for the most part). Things started to go downhill. There were fights in the pits, alcohol consumed between rounds, and you didn’t dare leave your pit unattended or something WOULD be stolen. I got out of drag racing and into road racing. Motorcycles then carts, and discovered again, an element of respect that had disappeared in drag racing. And there are more rules to follow, and an expectation that you will, not only for fairness, but for safety as well. You could be in a pack of bikes or carts all heading for the same corner and you had better know when to give-way or when to stand-on.

Again, after some time the element changed in motorcycle racing. Someone brought in a big purse (Suzuki) and guys who were used to racing for the sport of it, and the pride of running a faster lap then their last, were all of a sudden faced with guys who couldn’t care less about anything other than getting that purse. Gentlemen be damned, I want my $1500 (really, you’ll risk paralyzing or killing another rider for $1500???).

I got out of that and dabbled in carts. Fast, great handling, and you had better follow the rules with open wheels or you WILL get hurt. It was great until I encountered a new guy on the track one day. I started to have flash-backs to the Motorcycle races where guys started not giving right-of-way in corners to the cart that owned it. And you would see a cart flip once in a while and it became more common to get shouldered out of a corner. So one day after a race I’m talking to this guy and I mention to him that I thought he was a bit pushy out there and he looks at me and says “Rubbin’s Racin”!

Straight out of NASCAR. And it occurred to me that the infection of the NASCAR mentality, and along with it the atrophy of the “Gentlemen” mindset had completed it’s course and had taken the fundamental principal out of the last of the wheeled sports that I was interested in. (I never considered off-road or four-wheel drive racing because that is obviously the era before man learned to walk upright without dragging his knuckles.)

What does this have to do with Yacht Racing you might ask? Well I think it has some very common parallels. Money in, Gentlemen out, Respect out, and the sad trade off to winning at all cost over being a gentleman and playing fair. It’s not an infraction unless you get caught is the prevalent thinking. Sadly that is endemic to our whole society today.
Should we give-in? Hell No!

The rules should be enforced by all. And those who demonstrate that they cannot comply should be told to sit out a season or more to ponder if that is how they want to play.


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Mar 24, 2011, 8:06 AM

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I agree with all said in the article regarding protest. Much of the problem, I believe, is the fault of clubs, many discourse protests, especially in those "beer can" races, and that seems to carry over to Regattas and other races. Yacht clubs should be required to enforce, oh my such a harsh word, sailing rules, regardless of the type of race.

Walt
California




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Mar 24, 2011, 8:16 AM

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In Reply To
From Rob Britton:
Peter Wilson may not remember that 40 years ago many of us became yacht racers because it was such an "elitist" sport that the players enforced their own rules. The reality then was that only a complete fool would invest so much time and money, and then cheat to win a pickle dish. Of course nobody got paid in those days and the penalty for breaking a rule was to sail directly home. Gentlemen and ladies of the time were humiliated to be seen as cheaters, and would err on the side of caution, lest they lose the respect of their competitors.

In the time of USYRU and "Corinthian" Yacht Racing, I do not remember rule compliance as an issue. Attempts to expand the market by dummying down the rules and penalties have not been helpful. The values that made yacht racing great are not "common", they are Nobel, and we should return to them before we must arm umpires with cameras and Yacht Club guards with nightsticks.



From Victor Beelik:
I heartily agree with Rob Britton’s letter (Scuttlebutt 3303) that 40+ years ago yacht racing was truly a “gentlemen’s amateur sport. Let’s recreate the ‘Corinthian” spirit that dominated the yacht racing in those days.


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Mar 24, 2011, 11:05 PM

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In Reply To
From Tom Arthur, New Zealand:
I was interested to read Peter Wilson�s article in issue 3302, titled Fundamental Principal and am glad to see this issue highlighted. As a dinghy sailor and also a radio controlled yacht sailor this problem is particularly bad in RC yachting in my location. Although it is far more difficult to ascertain infringements when several RC yachts are trying to round marks than when sitting in the boat, there are still lots of occasions when blatant non-compliance of the rules takes place.

In our club it has reached the stage where some of the members who insist on sailing to the rules, have split off to sail with likeminded sailors because the friction generated trying to get the non-rules sailors to comply is too hard. We have decided to leave them to sail as they wish so we can enjoy our sport in peace.

I see this problem as the biggest one our club faces and it has had the result of a loose segregation with one group of rules compliant sailors sailing in officially administered racing on the weekends and another group who sail mid-week where rules compliance is more relaxed. Interestingly the latter group outnumbers the former which is a concern.

At a club, i used to belong to, we have had increasing breaches of racing rules, for advantage, and one compeditor in particular races
while snubbing the sailing rules and when confronted about any issues uses bully boy tactics.

As success sometimes rewards the "brave" this chap is now Commodore and all is at peace, with those who choose sloth over complience!





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