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Historians argue that because of the tyranny, despotism and excesses of the Angevin rulers of England, the western world now has parliamentary democracy. Luke Skywalker lived on Tatooine, a very long way from the centre of the Galactic Empire. 

Funnily enough, these two propositions do not seem to be that unrelated after the events of the last few weeks. 

Like many great sagas, its origins are entirely unremarkable. In the last few years, Australia Sailing has been flogging the dead horse idea of holding yachting championships. But of course, Australian Sailing does not run regattas, and this task is contracted out to various clubs as organising authorities such as those on Tatooine.

This is where the trouble started. 

An otherwise eligible owner, with an otherwise eligible vessel entered an Australian Sailing regatta but the entry was promptly rejected by the organising authority. The competitor protested seeking redress and the organising authority said that it had given reasons for the rejection and had satisfied RRS 76.1. 

No doubt sensing the possible fallout, Australian Sailing appointed what was essentially an Olympic regatta jury comprising well respected judges for a 10-boat regatta in the desert of Tatooine. The reasons given by the organising committee were twofold. 

Firstly, the competitor was in breach of RRS 69.1 and secondly, that Article 7 of the Constitution of the organising authority allowed flag officers could exclude any person from participating in any event and entering the premises of the organising authority.

The alleged RRS 69.1 conduct appears to be that several weeks earlier, the competitor as a non-member of the organising authority had requested to sail as a crew member on another member’s vessel in an afternoon fun race and this request was refused.

Notwithstanding the refusal but without coming onto the premises of the organising authority, the competitor crewed on the member’s boat. Subsequently, the competitor had sought to compete as crew member on a member’s vessel in the local ocean race. 

Again, permission was denied by the organising authority and the competitor did not compete. But here is the problem, there was never a hearing, or indeed a determination by the organising authority or Australian Sailing that there had been a breach RRS 69.

Simply, the organising authority asserted that there was a breach and that subjective assessment without a hearing was sufficient to deny entry. 

So, what was the outcome?

The jury denied the application for redress and the entry remained rejected. When the competitor sought a reopening, the jury refused to reopen stating:

It is not the function of the jury in such matters to test the merits or legality of the reasons given by the OA or RC to reject an entry. RRS 76.1 only requires that reasons be stated, as they were, and were not against the rules.” 

That comment being consistent with the earlier finding in the Reasons that:

For the purposes of determining if the action of rejecting an entry was improper, the panel does not need to determine whether such reasons were factually or legally justified but rather whether the organising authority exercised its rights under Rule 76.1 properly. In this case the panel considered the OA exercised their discretion based on previous conduct that they considered was not in accordance with accepted standards. Rule 76.1 confers the right of the organising authority or race committee to reject or cancel the entry of a boat or excluded competitor in such circumstances”. 

As to the requirements of RRS 76.1 the jury found that:

Rule 76.1 does not state or imply any qualitative test for the acceptability of the reason.”

The jury in referencing US Sailing Appeal Case No 53 concluded by saying that the actions of the organising authority in rejecting the entry was neither arbitrary or capricious.

To be clear, the jury applied the relevant case law and otherwise properly did their job, but in doing so perfectly illustrated the real problem.

The organising authority is never going to bring the Section 69 hearing and Sailing Australia is never going to determine if the conduct amounted to a breach of RRS 69 because to do so means having to have a proper hearing on the merits which of course is something Australian Sailing does not want as that involves a public fight with its own organising authority over a dispute where there may have been no actual RRS 69 breach. 

The competitor now has the problem that an allegation is made against him which will never be tested which excludes him from all events open or otherwise conducted by that organising authority. 

Australian Sailing has the problem that they cannot even decide or even have the power to decide who can compete in their own regattas as against its own organising authority.

Or maybe it was simply the case Australian Sailing got their best possible outcome, for as the jury also observed:

Many of the issues raised by the OA’s letter of rejection of the entry and its submissions to this hearing, would require oral evidence, cross-examination and involve a substantial number of witnesses for a determination to be made in respect to each ground. For the reasons appearing hereafter, the jury does not consider it necessary to engage in such a protracted hearing, and that the individual issues are beyond the scope of this hearing.”

Looking at it from a different standpoint, the outcome is entirely understandable and consistent with the role of Australian Sailing as the peak body of the sport, namely we do not want “own” any problems but we want all the accolades that come with being the peak body.

It would be naïve to think that Australian Sailing as the peak body and supposedly as administrators of the RRS will stand up to organising authorities for the benefit of an individual competitor as there is no benefit it in Australian Sailing to do so. 

So sure, descending into the controversy here was always going to be ugly, nasty and expensive but when you are the peak body otherwise charged with upholding the RRS, sometimes that is just your job. 

The disengagement of ordinary sailors from the peak body will no doubt continue. So, what of Luke Skywalker and the Angevin rulers of England?

No one ever got to have a cantina scene (Han shot first by the way) and Luke Skywalker ended up disillusioned and broken while King John eventually lost the Angevin Empire but we all get to vote on election days. 

Commodore Captain

4 October 2019