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good cop/bad cop

ISAF World Sailing today issued the formal report and recommendations for the Langkawi Youth Worlds in Malaysia we’ve all been waiting for.  You remember – just a day ago, they told us it would be some groundbreaking shit, and we told you not to hold your breath.  It’s not complete crap, and it certainly moves the conversation forward.  But as you’d expect from a report written by an obviously conflicted party working for ISAF, it’s mostly a whitewash, and pretty much every ‘fact found’ had already been published in the Sailing Anarchy Forums or Israeli press days or weeks before.  Let’s have a look (Report excerpts are indented):
So Sorry

World Sailing deeply regret that 2 sailors from the Israel Yachting Association (IYA) were unable to compete at the 2015 Youth World Championships due to the conditions imposed by the Malaysian authorities, in order for them to be allowed permission to enter the country and compete at the regatta. 

They’re sorry!  We cannot remember the last time ISAF apologized for anything.  That means more than you might think.

The key facts are set-out below and as a consequence of the investigation World Sailing re-affirms and defines more explicitly, the requirements of its “no discrimination” regulations on all regatta organizers. In summary, going forward, in the event of a breach of the “no discrimination” regulations at a regatta, World Sailing shall at its discretion impose sanctions on the Member National Authority (MNA) concerned. These may include:
• non-selection as a future venue;
• denial of appointment of World Sailing race officials to future regattas in the country, and / or
• cancellation of membership of World Sailing.

Notice these ‘sanctions’ are not mandatory despite the use of the term ‘shall…impose’; the words are gutted by the loose legalese ‘at its discretion’ and ‘may include’.  It’s an old trick a lawyer uses when they think you’re stupid and they are trying to fool you.  This loose language absolves World Sailing from imposing any sanctions on any MNA as long as they don’t feel like it, and allows them to impose only the most token of sanctions if they want.  It also ignores perhaps the most important sanction of all: Invalidating the regatta where the discrimination occurred.
Organized Chaos

Countries who do not have diplomatic relations with the country of a chosen venue, and officials who know they may have difficulty over entry into a country, shall accept the need to highlight these challenges well in advance. Such countries shall be prepared to select sailors and plan participation early enough for arrangements to be made.
Changing venue after selection is never desirable. In future, World Sailing staff will explicitly report on the implementation of its “no discrimination” requirement at a World Sailing regatta to the committee responsible so that any emerging difficulties can promptly be escalated to the Council of World Sailing. 

Instead of a hard requirement that a suspect nation’s Minister of Immigration or State Department Chief or King or Chief Avenger sign a Host Venue Agreement (including the nondiscrimination clause) guaranteeing immigration status to all competitors, Chris Atkins’ report calls for ‘highlighting these challenges well in advance’.  So no real timing guidelines for the revolving door of ISAF volunteers who run these events, more of a call for someone to ‘say something, so emerging difficulties can be escalated.’  T.P.S. Reports, anyone?
Spread It Around

The conditions required by the Malaysian authorities breached Article 7 of the World Sailing constitution. The late starting of the process to enable Israeli sailors to participate, delays and poor communication by all parties during that process, and the late notification of the conditions, contributed to the outcome and made it impossible for World Sailing and IOC to resolve the incident before the championships.

Here’s another tricky passage that calls to mind ambassadors and diplomatic statements rather than a sport enforcing its laws.  It starts off so strongly: “Malaysia, you broke the fucking rules.”  But then it all falls apart in the time-honored method of cowards and diplomats everywhere – creating fictitious blame and spreading it around.  Despite their own timeline saying otherwise, Atkins blames both Israel and Malaysia for ‘delays’, even though the Israelis notified Malaysia of their team 2 and a half months before the event – plenty of time to get a visa in any country, and precisely the amount of time Israel needed to complete the regattas they used to select its team.  It was Malaysia who then waited almost two months before telling the Israelis the odious ‘conditions’ they’d need to meet if they wanted to compete: No public presence, no purchasing of anything, no attendance at the event off the water, no anthem, national sail identification, and so on.  Atkins somehow has the nerve to write that it was the ‘late notification of the conditions…’ that contributed to the outcome; but it wasn’t.  It was the despicable, discriminatory conditions themselves that created the problem, and ISAF and the IOC’s lack of spine that allowed it to go on.  End of story.
The Five Commandments

• All sailors at all sailing events shall be entitled to race with their country code letters on their sails. A requirement for sailors to enter any sailing event under “World Sailing” or other disguising title breaches World Sailing regulations.
• If country flags are to be displayed, anthems played, or national team clothing worn, this shall apply equally to all sailors from all MNAs.
• All World Sailing championships involve an element of country representation, and at all these regattas, flags shall be displayed and winners’ anthems played. They shall be displayed and played equally for all competitors. Organizing Authorities who are not able to meet this requirement should not bid, and will not be selected, to host future World Sailing championships.
• The principle also applies to officials appointed by World Sailing to regattas. An Organizing Authority or host country MNA shall not seek to restrict such appointments on the grounds of race or any other discrimination.
• With regard to security, World Sailing believes that security is the responsibility of the host country; and there shall be no obligation to accept other nations’ security personnel. Security considerations may mean sailors from different countries are treated differently ashore.

We like this concise list of the kind of behaviour that’s prohibited as it doesn’t leave much up to interpretation.  But neither do the current IOC or ISAF rules, and Malaysia (and Oman, and Abu Dhabi) ignored the hell out of those.  Remember, the danger here is some vague possibility of sanctions levied on a whole nation by a body that’s shown no stomach for it; does anyone think that this won’t be a problem five or ten years down the road when the next country decides it wants to exclude people for whatever reason?
The final bullet above is a direct reference to the excuse that Malaysia gave for the Israeli situation – like George W. Bush, they trot out the old ‘risk to security!’ to explain their visa conditions.  Israel presumably said “fine – we’ll send our own bodyguards”.  Malaysia didn’t like that, and ISAF is trying to head the problem off with this term.  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we don’t have to revisit this one anytime soon.
Days of Future Past
While the report conveniently ignores the string of ISAF screwups that led to Malaysia being awarded the Youth Worlds without an ironclad nondiscrimination guarantee despite their knowledge that it was a potential problem, it does clearly lay out what’s prohibited in a way that can’t be ignored, and it should be commended at least for doing that job somewhat competently.  But what about the 900-pound elephant in the room?
We’re talking, of course, about the validity of not just the Youth Worlds, but also last year’s RS:X Worlds in Oman (an Olympic qualifier) as well as the 2014 and ’15 Sailing World Cup Finale in Abu Dhabi – all regattas with discriminatory visa issues that excluded top Israeli sailors.  The Atkins report itself cites an October statement from the International Olympic Committee – the body from which ISAF and MNAs get much if not most of their funding from – addressing the problem head-on.   The IOC wrote that for all competitions taking place under the auspices of an International Federation or National Olympic Committee or their continental or regional associations, it has to be ensured that all athletes from all their members can enter a country to compete and are treated equally. It was agreed that should this rule not be respected, the event in question cannot serve as a qualification event for the Olympic Games or any other championship. [emphasis ours].”
The Atkins report adds that “World Sailing confirms it will apply this guidance strictly to all future sailing regattas.”  But what about the qualification events that just happened?  How are they somehow considered valid despite clearly violating the IOC rules?”
Next Crisis
All in all, the ISAF World Sailing Report on Malaysian discrimination has holes big enough to drive an RS:X through.  That being said, it’s more direct and clearer than almost anything ISAF has done in years.  When one has been fed a diet of rotten food and offal for as long as one can remember, a piece of Wonder Bread tastes like the finest gourmet meal.  With Oman on deck for the Youth Worlds and Israel scheduled for the year after, here’s to the hope that the next meal is something a little better, and the one after that, better still.