Much has been made of some suspect moves by ISAF of late. Peter Huston takes a closer look…

ISAF will have to change their Bylaws during the upcoming AGM because of financial reporting requirements.  You can read a more detailed explanation of the situation in the Jerome Pels email to Paul Henderson, which is pasted below.  The short version is that because of the size of the ISAF Board, the necessary financial reporting requirements for all the Board members were too cumbersome, so the ISAF Board needs to be downsized to just the Executive Committee.  Anyone who has been paying attention to world affairs the last decade knows that between 9/11 and the banking crisis, the financial community is a bit more strict on how money moves around.

OK, fine, so for these reasons it is understandable that the Board of ISAF needs to be smaller. And generally the other changes, which are far too long and complex to get into here, are probably OK too.  However, Dave Sprague, the Canadian member of Council, has been saying that the specific wording within the key section of the proposed Bylaws leaves a bit too much wiggle room for the Executive to do whatever they want, whenever they want.

So, I asked ISAF President Goran Petersson about it via email, and he responded.  That full exchange, along with subsequent comments from former ISAF President Paul Henderson and ISAF Secretary General Jerome Pels are pasted below.  The focus of their comments is on the banking issue, but, the question that Sprague poses seems to go undressed.

The issue isn’t so much that this particular Executive will just start making decisions on their own.  In fact, the vast majority of time they will likely conduct business as it has been for decades.  However, it is Sprague’s contention that the wording with 68.a the use of the word “may” can, and at some time probably will be, used for purposes other than what the will of sailors around the planet want. 

Don’t think it can’t, or won’t happen?  Then why wasn’t there any action taken against SNG for the Race 2 America’s Cup race committee fiasco?  All because the wording within that section of the Race Committee Officials allowed for nothing to be done.  Ok, so that is over and done with, but really, was it right?

Petersson answers with the assertion that the Executive is the only truly elected body within ISAF.  That part is true, but, that group is so small, one slick lawyer can get 5 votes very quickly, and because the wording in 68.a will allow for permissiveness in their decisions with no oversight, or “second reading”, I’ll leave it to your imagination what might occur within the world of sailing if just a group of people no greater in number than the fingers on your hand can make any decision they want.

Will the world stop spinning if this Bylaw is approved as it is written.  No.  People will still keep racing sailboats in all corners of the world every weekend, and having fun, because the truth of the matter is that ISAF doesn’t really impact the vast majority of racing sailors on a weekly basis.  But why leave the wording the way that it is, when the opportunity exists to change it so there is at least some sort of oversight for policy decisions.  This isn’t to say that every decision needs to be second guessed – certainly not the daily operational decisions, but rather policy decisions that have long lasting impact. Things like the selection of Olympic classes could easily be made by the Executive, while ignoring the recommendations of Council and all sorts of sub-committees.

I suspect this Bylaw will be changed to what we see presented.  It is just buried too deeply within a massive document to see meaningful debate or change.  But, if nothing else, Dave Sprague deserves thanks for bringing this wording to our attention so the opportunity for debate can take place prior to the ISAF AGM.  If a policy change is so desirable and well thought out, why would ISAF fear having a “second reading” and instead insist on the Executive having the power to change whatever they want, when ever they want? Continued tomorrow.