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the malaysian candidate

The Malaysian visa denial scandal has started a full-fledged political brouhaha in Malaysia’s government, but there’s plenty going on under ISAF’s roof as well, with a crucial emergency meeting coming up on the 8th of January.  We turn to SA’er “Rail Meat” for a more analytical look at the situation, and what you can do to make your opinion heard before the ISAF meeting. To really dig into it and find all the links and public statements, read the SA Forum thread.

In what is normally a quiet week, there has been a lot of activity in the halls of the various organizations that govern sailing.  I honestly did not expect to see as much action as we have seen, given the fact that most of the world disconnects between Christmas and New Year’s.
Since Sailing Anarchy first lit up the story about Malaysia injecting politics into a World Championship sporting event, there has been progress made.  Several National Authorities including US Sailing, the Danish sailing federation, the German national sailing authority, the Dutch national sailing authority and the New Zealand national sailing authority have all made public statements that rejected Malaysia’s actions and forcefully urged World Sailing (ISAF) to take action.  Some have wished for additional or different language in their responses, but in my view it was pretty remarkable that five significant national sailing authorities were able to quickly mobilize the necessary quorum to publish these statements in a timely fashion.  It highlights the apparent failure of other significant sailing authorities to similarly support fair play in sailing, with no political influence.
I have also been heartened by the degree to which US Sailing President Bruce Burton has been wiling to engage in direct dialogue on the topic.  He responded to an email I sent him on the topic, and engaged in an on-going dialogue that has been notable for its honesty, candor and desire to see something done about the type of politics that we saw play out in the Youth World Championships.  He certainly had better things to do with his holiday week than to engage with me, and the level of detail he was willing to get into suggests to me that there is a forthright desire to see World Sailing make changes in future events.  The actions taken to date by US Sailing along with the direct communication I have had with President Burton goes a long way towards restoring faith in US Sailing, and makes it far easier for the US Class 40 to renew its membership.
World Sailing’s initial response, while reasonably quick, was weak.  Dispatching someone to Malaysia who was probably already going to be there is hardly a endorsement of the values we as sailors want to see in this situation.  The fact that they have convened an emergency board meeting for January 8 is a positive sign that they are taking the situation seriously, or are at least engaged enough to understand that there is real anger across the sailing community over this situation.  But their statement of December 31 has some worrisome language.
When they wrote that “[World Sailing] acknowledges that delays in communication by both Israeli and Malaysian officials in the lead up to the regatta have contributed to the situation spiraling into the current controversy” is a poor attempt to obscure the fundamental reason for this “current controversy”.  The only reason there is any controversy is because Malaysia initially denied the Israeli athletes visas, then would only grant visas if the Israelis accepted intolerable and embarrassing restrictions that no other countries’ athletes were subject to.  World Sailing’s language suggests that the Israelis were some how at least partially responsible for the outcome, a completely false canard that seems to be World Sailing’s way to spread blame and take the focus off of Malaysia and World Sailing’s culpability.
It is too late to take any action that will impact this year’s Youth World Championships.  It will forever be tainted by this controversy with its host country rightfully being scorned by the world wide sailing community and its participants unfortunately never able to have the satisfaction of knowing that their accomplishments were achieved against the all of the world’s best.
It is not, however, too late to hold World Sailing accountable to make the kind of changes so that this will not happen again.  This will not be easy.  The very structure of World Sailing insulates its decision makers from that accountability.  National Sailing Authorities have important influence, but even their ability to drive action is indirect at best.  The IOC certainly has a strong influence in the form the financial contribution it makes to World Sailing, and maybe for the first time, the world’s sailing community can actually be heard, and bring more conversation to the issue.
So what can you do?
1) IF you’re in a country whose National Authority has not yet made a statement on the Malaysia visa issue, reach out directly to your national MNA via phone, email, or social media, and let them know what their membership wants to see and what you will do if you don’t see action.
2) When your authority has made a public statement, hold them accountable for following through on it.  Far too frequently, these statements become lost in the shuffle, their makers forgetting promises almost as soon as they make them.
3) Contact the key parties in World Sailing directly!  They do this ostensibly because they love sailing, and their job is to represent their members.  You can submit a general contact via the ISAF website, or reach out to Carlo Croce, Nazil Imre, George Andreadis, Chris Atkins, Adrienne Greenwood, Gary Jobson, Quanhai Li, and W. Scott Perry – the full Exec Committee – via social media or your own contacts.
4) Reach out directly to the people who have the most contact with these types of situation -the Events Committee – and tell them how you feel.  It’s a small smart and a big committee, so you might know some of them, and their contact info is here.  Conversation and discussion can only help these hard-working volunteers do the right thing.
5) ISAF and the Events Committee get a significant amount of operating budget from their sponsors.  If you’re not happy with ISAF’s response, let those sponsors know via social media or e-mail.  They may not even know that the event they sponsor has  discriminated against Israeli athletes.
As you’d expect, a wide variety of thoughts have been shared on the Sailing Anarchy thread about the “correct” course of action that should be taken by World Sailing, but a few ideas seem to be consistently repeated:
1) Malaysia should be censured, perhaps by being denied the right to host any future events (including the Monsoon Cup) for the next several years
2) World Sailing/ISAF should enhance their screening process to look for such things as governmental policies that prohibit visas to citizens of certain countries or are discriminatory in other ways.  Another enhancement would be cooperation with other sporting authorities to determine if athletes in other hosted events have experienced unfair practices.
3) A demand from World Sailing that if awarded an event the national authority and the government guarantee that all athletes will be treated equitably, and an understanding that failure to follow through on this commitment could result in loss of the event or a ban on hosting future events.
4) The understanding that if sanctions are taken by World Sailing against a country, then those actions will be shared with the governing authorities for other sports for their own evaluations.
Given by an apparent history by both Oman and Israeli in holding up visas for athletes in prior events, World Sailing should require a commitment from both countries in order for them to keep the events scheduled in each over the next two years.
If you are going to share your thoughts, do it soon.  January 8 is coming up quickly.
Michael “Rail Meat” Hennessy