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Rodney Pattisson - February 2012 issue of Seahorse Magazine
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The Publisher

Jan 29, 2012, 3:17 PM

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By Rodney Pattisson, MBE - Three-time Olympic medallist for GBR

'Actions by official boats or helicopters shall not be grounds for requesting redress by a boat.
This changes RRS 62' ­ SI 15.2 ISAF Sailing World Championship, Perth

My sympathy lies entirely with Ben Ainslie, robbed by the action of others from winning his 10th sailing world championship. It was just a mild case of 'championship rage'. To my mind, understandable, but then blown out of all proportion, but caused primarily by the clearly poorly policed world championships run by ISAF.

I am sure that Ainslie's accusation was well founded, that his ability to surf the waves fully had been impeded by the wash of a TV boat, steered by an over-eager driver, no doubt egged on by a cameraman wanting to get even closer to the action. Who better then, to admonish the culprit, than the victim himself ­ after all, nobody else would have done!

As for the punishment meted out by the International Jury, you can be sure they were only too keen to kowtow to the demands of ISAF, happy to please and to ensure their next trip abroad. ISAF were the true culprits, but they were anxious, as ever, to cast the blame onto someone else, and in this case the unfortunate Ainslie.

For years now ISAF have submitted to the continuing demands of the IOC, that all Olympic sports must change to become a true TV spectacle. The fact is Olympic sailing is on the whole boring and uninteresting to watch, even to the initiated, and so never will be a spectacle; participation, of course, is a very different matter.

Firstly, ISAF agreed to more races with shorter courses. This immediately put more emphasis on the need for a good start and the chance of being black-flagged (as in Ainslie's case in the next race), however careful, increasingly likely.

In my day, a 12-mile course meant a windward leg of some two miles, making it often impossible to see the weather mark at the start, but at least one could make a safe start with time to clear your air, use the shifts, generate boat speed, and then the fastest sailor invariably won the race. This is not the case today.

To add further to the wound ISAF's previous president came up with the micky-mouse 'Medal Race'. Why should one race, run in an unsuitable area chosen primarily for the press and shore spectators, count for double points on the last day ­ and so be non-discardable? The reason, apparently, is to prevent the very best sailor amassing sufficient points that they do not need to sail on the final day. Frankly, any sailor that good deserves this privilege and shouldn't be obliged to sail in what can only be described as no better than a sailing lottery. In reality this final race often involves the leading points scorer simply sitting on his nearest rival and pushing him back ­ nothing very spectacular to watch there.

God help Olympic sailing. It is unforgivable that such an uncaring sporting authority has allowed Olympic sailing to develop in this way. We need to turn the clock back, to say NO to some of the demands of the IOC and to tailor the sport to the sailors, to revert to decent courses and most definitely to say NO to the Medal Race. Sadly it is already probably too late.
This column came from the February 2012 issue of Seahorse Magazine. Here is a dedicated link which offers a discounted subscription rate to the Scuttlebutt family:

The Publisher

Jan 29, 2012, 3:17 PM

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The 2012 Olympics won't be the first Games with the medal race, but it will be the first Games where the course location is so close to shore that bleachers will be erected and tickets will be sold. What this also means is the course conditions will be a lottery if the wind comes from the wrong direction. For young sailors who are considering a run at Olympic glory, it may make them think twice if their investment of time and money for a medal will be obscured by a final race that has increased the value of luck in the equation.

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt


Jan 30, 2012, 3:21 AM

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There seems to be a sense amongst some sailors, not all, that ISAF is a mythical sea creature like the Krakin. ISAF is made up of Member National Authorities many of whom like the RYA from Rodney Pattison's country were and still are strong supporters of the current Olympic format. So were most of the Olympic classes. The relationship between ISAF and the IOC is very complex and the medal race was not a matter of curtseying to the whims of the IOC but a long negotiation between the ISAF Olympic classes, the Events Committee and the Council. It was intended to give the sailors much needed recognition as well as meet some, not all, of the wishes of the IOC. Whilst much of what ISAF does and doesn't do deserves criticism it makes a lot more sense if those who criticise inform themselves first.
Barrie Harmsworth

Bruce Thompson

Jan 30, 2012, 6:03 PM

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Back in 1984 the U S Sailing team won whole bunches of gold medals. The ABC TV network blew the human stories. They did an extended morning soft feature with Kathleen Sullivan of Good Morning America about sailing which featured her sailing with Christopher Reeve (AKA Superman) on his 65 foot offshore boat. All those sailing gold medallists got their very limited face time solely at their medal ceremonies after the late local news.

I wrote to Roone Arledge of ABC News & Sports about how badly his network had blown its opportunity. (They also lost the Olympic broadcasts to NBC!) so during the 1988 Olympics in Korea, Arledge did what he should have done in 1984 and did a human interest feature about Paul Elvstrom sailing with his daughter in the Olympics, 40 years after he won the first of his four consectutive gold medals, the first person to win gold medals in four Olympics. This feature appeared as a segment on the evening news with Peter Jennings!! It was the best coverage sailing ever got on network TV.

Paul Elvstrom has always gotten short shrift for his accomplishments because the first of his four gold medals was sailed in the Firefly class, while the subsequent three were in the Finn. What sailors would now recognize as the Men's Singlehanded Class IOC considers to be separate events. If Great Britain wants to make headlines, they ought to put Paul Elvstrom ahead of Al Oerter in the Olympic pantheon as the first four time gold medal winner!

Remember what made TV sports on ABC's Wide World of Sports? It was Jim McKay saying "...the huiman drama of athletic competition..." That is what sailing needs to become a popular event on TV.

The Publisher

Feb 2, 2012, 7:02 AM

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From Paul Henderson:
To my old friend Rodney Pattisson, you state (in Scuttlebutt 3516) that the ridiculous Medal Race that is now part of the Olympic sailing event was the concept of "ISAF's previous president". Well, I was the "previous president" and it would never have happened under my watch.

The idea of the Medal Race happened under the current regime over the last eight years as a knee-jerk reaction to the pressure of getting additional television exposure - something that Olympics Sailing will never get.

The motivation for increasing the television appeal comes from the misguided notion that Sailing would be kicked out of the Olympics. But to have this happen, 50% of the 120 IOC members must vote to eliminate our sport, and in all such votes sailing has never received less than 75% of the vote. So it is a mystery why ISAF insists on prostituting the sport, particularly since Sailing is one of the top sports on the internet.

The Medal Race has caused a major disservice to our beloved sport. At a regatta like the Rolex Miami OCR, a participant pays the entry fee to race all six days. But if you do not make the top ten after five days, you are eliminated as only the top ten sail in the Medal Race on the final day. As a result, people leave the event, with no one left to cheer for the winners.

I remember sailing FD's against Ted Turner, when at the end of one particular regatta we were standing around the boat park and someone suggested we go out to a nice restaurant instead of attending the trophy banquet. After considering the idea, Terrible Ted responded with his usual southern drawl: "I'm goin' to the banquet because somebody has to cheer!" And we all went to support the winners.

The integrity of our sport has been diminished by these unfortunate decisions and on that I fully agree with Rodney.

The Publisher

Feb 2, 2012, 7:02 AM

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From Harrison Hine:
I heartily agree with Rodney Pattisson and his view (in Scuttlebutt 3516) of the contrived Olympic sailing these days. The best sailor and crew will not win the Gold medal, only the one with the best start.

I vividly remember the last race of the 1984 Olympics in the Star Class where Bill Buchan was able to win the gold coming from well back in the fleet on the last beat of the last race to take the gold.

Bill was the best sailor with the best crew and boat, but in today's Olympics he would be left in the dust. It just doesn't make sense to sacrifice the integrity of yacht racing to satisfy the media and fake enthusiasm for the sport.

From David Villiers-Child:
Rodney Pattisson is of course absolutely right but it is worse than that.

I was recently at a sailing Supper Club where the after meal talk was by one of the organisers of the 2012 Olympic Regatta, and as the talk progressed some were feeling increasingly concerned. Also present was Rod Carr, who had retired as CEO of the Royal Yachting Association in 2010 after 10 years in the position.

A person of some stature in the world of sailing asked of our lecturer, "But the competitors are still the most important people aren't they?" Before the lecturer could respond there was a loud emphatic "No they are not" from Rod Carr!

I need add no more.

The Publisher

Feb 2, 2012, 7:04 AM

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From Brian Morris:
Well said Rodney Pattisson concerning the medal race. This concept is a disaster.

For those of you with some memory, the ISAF World Sailing Championship in 2006 was held in Austria, and there was a Women's Multihull event which was raced in light disastrous conditions. The local race officer wanted to delay the medal race one hour for the wind to increase, but the ISAF representative apparently said the race had to be run at the scheduled time.

The result was only one team finished as the breeze died. The rest of the teams all scored double points in the non-discardable race. The leaders didn't win the gold medal and ISAF patted themselves on the back. The women cried. Who is there to speak up for our sport?

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