For around thirty years now, ISAF (now known as World Sailing) has had a peculiar rule. It’s a rule that almost every other sporting organization long ago learned wasn’t enforceable, but somehow, World Sailing didn’t get the memo. And as The Ed reported yesterday, World Sailing is using this rule as a bludgeon to try to kill off a potential rival for control of kiteboarding – and the megamillions ready to flow the sport’s way when the Olympic money faucet turns in a few short years (or way sooner).
We are not opining on whether World Sailing is the proper governing body for kiteboarding. It may be the best possible option, and the kiters could be lucky to have them in command. But we sure don’t remember a robust public debate about it, or a vote among the millions of kiting enthusiasts to submit to ISAF control over their competition rather than some other body. And we do remember the manner in which ISAF quietly snatched control of all things kiting in 2009 and immediately threatened independent kiting organizations. It was nasty, and wrong. And in some countries, we believe it is illegal at worst, and unenforceable at best.
We believe the IKFO can be the organization that finally invalidates ISAF World Sailing’s absolute control over the word “World”, and shines a light on the legally questionable and chaotic patchwork of regulations the sport’s governing body uses to prevent a problem that doesn’t exist. Easy for us to say – we’re not volunteering to fund a legal challenge to World Sailing’s threat to the IKFO. But it’s definitely worth a few hours of investigation by a good lawyer if the IKFO is a real organization and not some kind of stunt.
Word War 19
At issue is World Sailing Regulation 19.14, which says a sailor’s eligibility for all sailing events “may be suspended or revoked…for competing in a Prohibited Event’ without ISAF approval, that ‘uses the word “world” either in the title of the event or otherwise…’
In other words, if you go race in the ‘Stand-Up-Paddleboard-With-Big-Sail World Cup’, and World Sailing finds out, they claim they can prevent you from sailing in any event that uses the ISAF Racing Rules for two full years.
Now maybe they can in some countries. Hell, maybe they can in most countries. But as many other sports have found out, there’s a chunk of the world where the government doesn’t allow sporting bodies – especially those with government-granted monopolies like US Sailing or ISAF – to exclude competitors because they don’t like their extracurricular activities. If you’re talking about livelihoods, it gets even worse for World Sailing – try to explain to a US Court that you’re preventing a sponsored kiteboarder from earning a living because he sailed a weekend event in some unrelated organization’s ‘World Cup.’ If you can do that with a straight face, you need to talk to an American lawyer. Or ring Jim Capron, the President of US Sailing back when the organization got smacked around by Farrah Hall’s legal team, blowing hundreds of thousands in legal fees and costs in their support of ISAF-written rules on eligibility. It’s a slam dunk.
It’s not that complicated:
It’s not the World Cup, it’s the FIFA World Cup.
It’s not the Formula One World Championship, it’s the FIA Formula One World Championship.
It’s not the Skiing World Cup, it’s the FIS Skiing World Cup.
It’s not the Boxing World Championship, it’s the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBA, IBC, IBO World Championship.
Does anyone really think these sports’ governing bodies are less sophisticated than World Sailing? Maybe they have dumber lawyers or less creative rule writers? Major League Baseball can’t even prevent foreign baseball leagues from using the words “World Series”, but somehow World Sailing can control an even more general word? Why is this even a question anymore?
Answer: Because no one has challenged it. But a little pushback and the invalidation of the offending part of Regulation 19 would be a great thing for World Sailing in the long run. They could stop defending archaic ideas and focus on building their reputation and their brand, whatever it’s called these days.
We say to IKFO: Get your wallets out, find yourself a hungry lawyer itching for a fight, and make some noise for kiteboarding just as the Olympics starts thinking about turning the money on for a new discipline in sailing, or board sports, or whoever ends up owning the kites. We’re pretty confident that some court-ordered sunshine on World Sailing’s Regulations will illuminate a lot more than a little vocabularic overreach.