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Old 08-12-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
The Sport of Gentlemen?

A skipper at a major one-design world championship not too long ago lost his temper and hit a fellow crew member resulting in two black eyes and a bloody nose. What can the crew do, or anyone else, to prevent this from happening again? Should the helmsman be banned from sailing? And is there an actual rule that states the protocol to be followed aboard a private vessel?

Dan Dickison responds: 
Thanks for the question. We're glad you brought this to our attention. Although we weren't there at the time and don't have any additional evidence other than your account of the matter, we can tell you that there are indeed a few rules that apply to incidents like this. To begin with, Fundamental Rule 2 (Fair Sailing) is quite clear on the issue of sportsmanship: "A boat and her owner shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play. A boat may be penalized under this rule only if it is clearly established that these principles have been violated."

Sportsmanship, in the context of sailboat racing, has different connotations than it might in other realms, say like the World Wrestling Federation. But even in that raucous arena, the skipper in question would probably still be deemed in the wrong. I think it's safe to say that this sailor chose to deal with his crew in a very unsportsmanlike manner.

It's actually Rule 69.1 (housed under "Gross Misconduct" in the rule book) that applies most appropriately to the situation you describe. That rule states: "When a protest committee, from its own observation or a report received, believes that a competitor may have committed a gross breach of a rule or of good manners or sportsmanship, or may have brought the sport into disrepute, it may call a hearing." I would say that the incident you describe qualifies for a hearing on all three counts. Of course nothing gets done unless it's brought to the attention of the protest committee.

Regarding your other questions, the one thing other sailors can do to ensure that this kind of situation doesn't take place again—at a major one-design world championship or anywhere in the sport—is to bring it to light and air it out as you have done by contacting SailNet. The organizing authority of the event is the first official body in a position to take action on this matter. After that, it should come to the attention of the international class association and then the national governing body of the country in which the incident took place. (In a situation like this, in very least the class association should refuse entry to this person in future world championships.) And ISAF, the international governing body for the sport, under whose aegis the event took place, also has the jurisdiction to enact sanctions on this sailor.

On a personal level, I'd like to weigh in simply to say that sailboat racing may be a professional activity for some folks, but even at that level of intensity, there's no excuse for such violent behavior, particularly against one's own crew. At best, what we do out on the water is refined recreation. We're not curing cancer or resolving world hunger or any other much more vital endeavor. We're sailing, presumably for the enjoyment of it and our behavior should reflect that. If our activity on the water occasionally includes some heated moments where we let our competitive juices get the best of us, O.K. But it's not O.K. if such lapses of judgement lead us to commit violence. I think the skipper in question should take a hard look at his own actions and save the powers that be the trouble of adjudicating on this matter by voluntarily retiring from the sport for at least a year and by issuing a formal apology to his crew, particularly the one he bludgeoned. Enough said.

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