The 2016 Sailing Olympics Is Now Roulette, a Game of Chance. Series 3 of 3

From International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) perspective, here is exactly why ISAF must abandon the courses inside and outside Guanabara Bay immediately and order the event moved elsewhere to a clean water site in Brazil, it is no longer about the pursuit of perfection and fair play, it has become a Game of Chance:


International Sailing Federation has not hired a statistician who has calculated the: boat damages; illness competitors have picked up; and, boats that have been stopped by hitting garbage in practice and regattas, and has not showed the math that Guanabara Bay will work.  The evidence has shown that it doesn’t work to provide a fair contest.


No one ever designed the sport with the expectation that the water can provide illness to competitors or is full of trash hampering competitors advances on a race course.  There are no rules that address this.


Each country currently is on their own to conduct their own water quality tests of Guanabara Bay, and for those who have done this, they all seem to keep the results hidden.  Some countries are bringing doctors to treat their athletes should they become ill.  This process is a fiasco, and in of itself is unfair that medical prevention and care are not standardized.  If ISAF were to make this fair:

  • ISAF would conduct water quality tests;
  • ISAF would hire the doctors to determine the right course of treatment, prophylactic anti-biotics, and immunizations necessary to safely sail in the fetid waters of Guanabara Bay; and,
  • Require that each athlete who practices or competes in Guanabara provide a doctors report that they have been treated per ISAF’s standard of medical prevention.

Right now, there is no standard to assure all athletes are prepared medically to sail in these fetid waters.  This makes competition unfair.  Some athletes might not have preventative treatment, or not know all of the hazards contained in the water.


As the Redress rules do not provide assistance for boat damage caused by debris or slowed by hitting debris in the water, does not provide resolution for a competitor who falls ill, the one thing the judges can do is abandon the entire race each time a boat hits debris.  In a rare incident in a race anywhere in the world, this can make sense, but planning for this eventuality for Guanabara Bay where this is most assured, happens to be just plain dumb.


There are hoards of people in sailing who work diligently to assure that all competitions are “fair” eliminating the Game of Chance.  The Rules of sailboat racing are designed solely with the Olympics in mind.  Every four years (just after the Olympics conclude), the rules are changed to make improvements, remove anything that is unclear, and fix anything that might have been unfair. Back in 2013 the rules writers made 66 changes to the rules.  Then the rules are frozen for the next four years so that all athletes preparing for the next Olympics know the game that will be played and practice that game.

The rules also have a built-in escape clauses when things don’t work our fairly.  Sportsmanship is a very broad rule that would prevent a competitor from gaining an advantage against another competitor through shenanigans or by violating a right of way rule that provides them a gain.  Another process called “Redress” allows a competitor to allow fair play to be decided by a panel of judges should a race official make an error that caused a disadvantage.

However, neither of these fairness rules are designed to fix a situation where the sailing water made a competitor ill preventing them from competing for the day, running into trash slowing them down allowing competitors to pass them, or running into trash damaging their boat removing them from competition.

How can over 100 years of legions of rules writers and sailors providing input to make the rules sharper every four years be usurped by an incredibly poor choice of putting the Olympic Sailing into sewage and garbage filled sewage water?  The rules never contemplated a situation like Rio.

Now instead of fairness with equal outcome, this is becoming a game of chance.  If I were a rules writer, I would be livid that my work is being made fun of by ISAF, of all people.


Then there are manuals, training and certifications built for Race Officials.   They take this stuff really seriously.  Their job is to set a race course, communicate what they have done clearly to the competitors, start the race, and finish the race assuring that the timings were done accurately, and no boat received any advantage as a result of their work.  Imagine, the large number of variables that can happen on a race course that is made of fluid.  The wind shifts direction, or changes velocity, current increases, decreases, changes directions.  Tide can shorten or length changing the position of the race marks.  The highly trained Race Officials have to perform flawlessly in an environment that is full of variables.

A really great Race Official can make racing go smoothly during the day, and one who just doesn’t have that vibe, can really frustrate the racers.

How can over 100 years of legions of really smart and talented people designing the manuals, training and tests to assure Race Officials provide a fair field of play and the competitors know that things will be right and all of this is usurped by an incredibly poor choice of putting the Olympic Sailing into sewage and garbage filled sewage water?

Now instead of fairness with equal outcome, this is becoming a game of chance.  If I were a Race Official, I would be livid that my work is being made fun of by ISAF, of all people.


There are manuals, training and certifications have been built for Judges.  They too really take this stuff seriously.  Their job is to assure that allegations of a competitor violating a right a way rule or fairness rule against another competitor is heard in a hearing, and adjudicated properly with a penalty of disqualification for violating a rule.  They also take complaints from competitors that the Race Officials may have made an error in their work, which provided an unfair situation and provide a fair resolution.

Judges spend tons of time studying the rules in seminars, re-reading them, sitting in discussions picking apart the nuances and one a million situations to understand clearly what the resolution must be.  There is a manual on the procedures of a hearing, who gets to speak when, how cross examination goes, evidence procedures, witnesses and understanding what to do when a boat is damaged in a collision including the extent of damage.

Normally in most sailboat racing worldwide, if the Judges made an error, there are two layers of appeals available to get the right resolution.  However, in the Olympics, the appeals process is eliminated and the decisions of the judges are final.  In order to do this, these judges must be the best of the best.

How can over 100 years of legions of really smart and talented people designing the manuals, training and tests to assure Judge provide the final step in providing a fair field of play how can all of this is usurped by an incredibly poor choice of putting the Olympic Sailing into sewage and garbage filled sewage water?

Now instead of fairness with equal outcome, this is becoming a game of chance.  I am a Judge, and I am livid that my work is being made fun of, by ISAF of all people.  And would expect my fellow Judges to be livid as well.


ISAF’s recent weak announcement saying that they want (not demand) Rio to move all racing out into the ocean outside Guanabara Bay does not go far enough.  In general, the ocean water is cleaner.  However, in a major rainstorm the wastes in Guanabara Bay flush out into the ocean where these outside ocean races courses are placed.  There is garbage and sewage that covers the race courses during these storms.  Hoping (gambling) that it is dry season during the Olympics and a rain storm won’t occur is facetious, and not preparing for the best guaranteeing a safe, and fair Games.

In an email to me from Alistair Fox, Head of Competitions at ISAF on April 27, 2015, he wrote: “As for heavy rainfall, a great number of sailing venues around the world are adversely affected by heavy rainfall and the additional pollution that can run off the land. Rio is no different in that respect. August is the dry season in Rio but as you know with sailing events you never know what weather you will get and hence the phrase ‘it is not normally like this’. We need to have contingency plans in place to ensure fair racing and that is what we are working on.”

Why waste all of this time trying to accommodate a facility that just doesn’t work?  Contingency plan?  Just abandon Rio and move to a clean water site elsewhere in Brazil.


The sport of sailing was not designed nor contemplated to be sailed in waters full of garbage, sewage, hospital and industrial wastes.  The 100 years of development of fairness, has not contemplated this type of field of play.  Why?  Because it becomes a game of chance, and everything this sport has been about focused on the Olympics is to eliminate chance and make it about skill sets.

How can the International Sailing Federation who has spent all of this time and all of this energy making sure that things will be fair and square throw it all away making a mockery of their faithful corps of volunteers who have dissected the sport over and over again make absolutely sure that the best talented athlete succeeds to the Gold Medal decide that sailing in pollution that jeopardizes all of the work of a hundred years doesn’t need to be changed?  Not only must it be changed, it must be done right now.  Get this out of Rio, move it to Buzios, Brazil or some other clean water sailing site in Brazil.

Or over 100 years of focused work to assure fairness in the Olympics will be destroyed August 5 – 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro in or outside of Guanabara Bay.  At that point, it will be time to get rid of ISAF as the leader of this sport and find a completely new system that will never take such a well known risk and gamble with peoples lives, and their boats like this ever again.

ISAF, you are mocking everything you have stood for.  You are telling every sailor, judge, race officer, organizer that the pursuit of perfection is not what it is all about.  You are changing racing to a game of chance.  Just have the competitors play Roulette instead of sailing to determine who gets the Gold Medal, because they are playing Russian Roulette with their health and boats by sailing in Guanabara Bay already.

ISAF, you cannot guarantee a Fair Contest inside or outside Guanabara Bay and that is your job.


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