ISAF’s Classification Code governs the Pro or Amateur status of every ISAF Class sailor in the world, and it’s been a huge mess for most of the new millennium. The 2009 changes to the code eliminated the dubious “Cat 2” category and took a small step to reducing the perceived widespread fraud and cheating rampant in classes like the Farr 40 and Melges 32, but the existing system still relies on an ‘on our honor’ database system along with a few classification czars who travel to world and continental championships to interrogate sailors and hopefully catch the bad seeds. Nearly everyone in grand prix sailing has seen how poorly the system works, and that fact, combined with the massive expenses involved (ISAF spends a small fortune to keep the database and application system running, and individual events have to eat the substantial costs of ISAF officials’ attendance) and the shrinking size of most every grand prix fleet needing Classification has finally gotten the ISAF Executive Committee to make a move to eliminate the Classification Code altogether. The proposal offers to guide classes that wish to use such a system with proposed regulations, but recognizes that it’s really something that should be done by those who know the class rather than an organization that hasn’t got a clue.
Lazy Class Administrators will hate this one, but we support it wholeheartedly because it’s the only way we’ll see a change. And given our faith in crowdsourcing, we expect some classes to come up with innovative and creative solutions to classification that will make sense for the future of the sport. Discuss the new proposal in the thread, and have a look at Peter Huston’s summary of ‘how we got here’ for some more background.
Go back to the mid-80’s when Dave Ullman wrote an article for Sailing World called something like “Get the pros out of sailing”. What he said was that it was absurd that he could, as the owner of a growing sailmaker, take his loft employees with him on a MORC or PHRF race as his complete crew. He knew it was a death march. So, along the way SoCal PHRF created the Marine Industry Racer rule. It worked pretty well. Guys that worked for a loft were easily identifiable.
About the same time prize money was just starting in the US with the Ultimate and Pro Sail series. At the time, the IOC did not allow “professionals” to compete in the Olympics. So, USYRU set up the US Professional Sailing Association. Essentially, it was a way to “cleanse” the prize money for people who competed in these two series. The prize money was paid to USPSA, who then in turn gave it to that sailors campaign fund.
Then the IOC changed their pro rule, so the need to “cleanse” the prize money went away (at almost the same time both series collapsed anyway). USYRU had in the meantime created the Group 1, 2, 3 thing. At the time, it was by far mostly about sailmakers. But there was no way to administer the list.
Case in point, I sailed in two events in Long Beach on successive weekends. Same sailor in those two events was categorized as a 1 and a 3 on successive weekends. I called Ullman the Saturday night of the second weekend when the guy was suddenly a 1. I said “so Judge X says your guy is a Group 1 guy”. Ullman just laughed and said “nope, he’s a 3, I sign his check every week”. But nothing happened that weekend, and the Group 3 guy got away with it, blessed by the US Sailing Judges at that event.
It seemed we needed a database of who was a 1, 2, 3. I went to the US Sailing AGM in Cape Cod in ’94, and started to promote this idea. Got tons of resistance, not the least of which was from then SW publisher John Burnham, and Bob Johnstone. We were at a post meeting party the Saturday night of the AGM at John Osmond’s house. I sat with Burnham and Johnstone and explained what I was thinking. Eventually, Burnham said “ok, write an article about this” and Johnstone, as he always does, listened and eventually saw the wisdom of it. It was going to help is brand a lot, and it did – starting with the 105 class.
After the article was published, I called then US Sailing Pres Dave Irish and told him I’d raise my hand and run a new entity that was needed to get this all organized. At the time, I was President of what was left of USPSA. We had no real reason for being after the change of the IOC pro rules, and I was either going to find a way to create some sort of value, or close it down. I wasn’t interested in trying to be a “sanctioning” body only, and charge events fees just because.
Irish said “dumb idea, we don’t need this list, too costly to maintain ect”. We closed down USPSA, and I dropped the idea of a Group 2 and 3 list.
Then, as Irish is leaving office, he appoints himself as the eligibility czar, sets up the Group 2 and 3 structure and CHARGES Group 1 people $25 to have their virginity blessed. I cringed, thankful I had nothing to do with that. Eventually that nonsense stopped, and the list sort of worked, sort of.
But how does an event that is run in the US know anything about who was a really a sailmaker or whatever in Italy or whereever? Impossible.
In the early “00’s, then ISAF Pres Henderson called me for all the background on how the US started the list. I told him. He asked me if I cared if ISAF took over the responsibility. I had no dog in the hunt, and told him good luck. Now we have guys in Dragon’s, Etchells, J70’s, various Melgi classes etc. paying people a couple of hundred bucks a day (or a lot more in a few cases) to pull ropes for them.
How exactly does ISAF propose to monitor who is paying who? While the notion of this list is worthwhile, it is simply unenforceable.
Besides, it is often less expensive to pay people to sail than it is for an owner to have to appease the Group 1 guys. As the longtime Farr 40 Class saying goes: “Best amateurs money can buy!”
ISAF and US Sailing (and probably a ton of other MNA’s) are becoming mostly just regulatory and taxing authorities. They do not provide added value for sailors. One of the biggest problems with the current system, and all of ISAF, is that pro sailors have almost zero voice within the organization. The “athlete’s council” (or whatever it is called) is there only to serve Olympic sailors.
Everyone knows in which classes people get paid to sail. The sport tends to be self-selecting. If you want to sail in a class where people pay others to sail, everyone knows where that is. If you don’t want that, you also know where to look.
The smart classes who want some sort of system to identify paid sailors will get together and figure it out on their own. They are best served by keeping ISAF out of the equation.