If Team Racing is no longer ‘Self Policed’ by sailors then maybe we should have referees

by Chris Kameen on April 10, 2013

The adoption of a single flag for umpire decisions has made the role of the umpire even more critical in team racing and has lessened the enjoyment for competitors.

I have been team racing for over 25 years and have seen many changes to the rules and the scoring of team races and on the whole I think the sport has been better for all of the improvements until the latest amendments which saw a switch from a self-policed sport to an umpired sport similar to Match Racing. whilst this can still be amended in the sailing instructions it signals a bad change in my opinion. Last weekend’s NSW Team Racing Championships was the first time I have competed under the single flag system and I didn’t like what I experienced.

The original Umpired races at a major event occured at West Kirby Sailing Club in the early 90’s and were introduced as an on the water protest committee to get away from the challenging but rather amusing system of reds and greens and off the water protests. ( I can remember the portacabins by the lake which housed 3 or 4 protest committees which sat endlessly during the Wilson Trophy!) The first systems employed used either observers or umpires with the onus always on the competitors to sort it out first – a self-policed sport. For me the two flag system worked as it maintained a sense of self-policing – we team race because it is good fun, it tests our boat speed, boat handling, strategy, tactics and ability to avoid umpire calls going against us. The single flag system negated that final point and meant that I saw umpires influencing races without the knowledge of competitors from either team thinking there was an issue.. this is not saying that the calls were wrong, far from it, but if a competitor does something wrong, no one notices and doesn’t materially effect the race at that point, then a 720 penalty is something that ruins the fun for everyone. The best races we had last weekend were the close matches where the calls of protest were far between, and the results were largely immaterial. A loss was soon forgotten if the race had been fun. A loss isn’t forgotten if it was initiated by an umpire and leaves a sour taste.

Since the introduction of Umpiring there are now a large number of Team Racers and Match Racers who have never raced without Umpires present and consequently shout “protest” willy nilly and often at the tops of voices and this is wrong. It is bad for the image of the sport and certainly makes us look like obnoxious $@N&*rs to the casual onlooker. I can’t think of any sport where shouting and screaming at another competitor or referee/umpire at any level is tolerated without an admonishment or penalty. The rules are fairly harsh on dealing with this currently – Rule 2 and Rule 69 could be used for ‘Shouting’ but I don’t think any competitor or umpire would find this sat well especially in team racing which now seems to have a culture of screaming and shouting… (myself included at plenty of times in my career!) Seriously, there was one team last weekend that sounded like a bunch of idiots – I’m sure they are great match racers and think they know their rules better than anyone, but their attitude certainly didn’t make team racing appealling for increasing participation in the sport, but having said that Rule 2 and 69 would potentially have equally been harsh on those competitors.

I dislike umpiring myself, and have immense gratitude to those that give up their time freely because I think they have a really tough and thankless job, which has been made harder by the recent rule changes which seem to embolden the role of the umpire and thus make getting calls right according to the book even more important. As an unqualified umpire I still get asked to umpire events because I understand the plays and have rapport with the competitors, but I don’t enjoy it as I feel I have to get the calls right. If I was able to referree I could still use my experience as a competitor and rapport and make a judgement call and be able to defend it. I could also deal with people that constantly raise their voice! I could also let things go that are minor but could accumulate in my mind to then result in a penalty. This is the style that I employ when teaching or coaching team racing and it works – it allows me to beat the shouting out and to get the competitors to sail more cleanly.

So here is my solution: –

1) Maintain the 2 flag system for elite events – the competitors pay the money to sail and race on their terms and are grateful to Umpires that they don’t have to spend hours in the protest room

2) Introduce Refereeing for more junior events with two referees on the course, good coaches, ex-team racers will feel much more comfortable helping at regattas and will get around the ‘not being qualified’ issue. We can then do things that are outside the rules for curtailing some of the language and behaviours the likes of which we saw last weekend

Keen to hear your thoughts

Chris Kameen was competing in the NSW State Team Racing Championships and was a loosing semi-finalist to the eventual winners. A great event run by Woollahra SC considering the number of teams that had entered!

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