With the Monsoon Cup presently running in Kuala Terengganu, Asian sailors are getting an eyeful of match racing at the moment. And on that subject, here’s a question from one of the spectators at the recent Dianshan Lake Winter Match Racing Regatta, 23-24 November: When is a penalty not a penalty?
Briefing on the alternative rules of Match Racing. Mr Liu rearranges the Rules for the Dianshan Lake event
'In one of the early matches, one boat sailed to leeward of the other, no room asked or given, and certainly no 'Y' flag from either team. This was confirmed by one of the other people on the umpire boat. So imagine this viewer’s surprise when suddenly a blue flag shot up on the umpire boat. ?
(The Dianshan Lake Regatta organisers claimed that the rules were the same as the China Club Challenge Match (CCCM) run just two weeks earlier, with the event 'managed by a referee (sic) from the CCCM').
On coming ashore a rightly aggrieved Shanghai Airport team asked 'why the penalty when there was no Y flag?' to be told by Mr Liu QiDong that 'If neither boat raises a flag in a boat-on-boat situation then the umpires can give a penalty if they think there should be one.' When it was suggested that this wasn’t the case, Mr Liu informed the team that the rules had changed with the 2013 update'.
Sorry, Mr Liu, but as one of the bloggers suggested on Chinese Weibo social media site, you must have a cheap Chinese copy of the Racing Rules of Sailing! The RRS 2013-2016, Appendix C Rule C6.5(A) clearly states 'After flag Y is displayed, the umpires shall decide whether to penalize any boat.' In other words the umpires cannot penalize a boat-on-boat incident without a ‘Y’ flag. We checked with an America’s Cup jury member, as well as a former member of the ISAF Rules Committee, both of whom agree that this is a very basic error and is clearly in conflict with the fundamental umpiring concept of ‘No Flag – No Foul’.
They also clarified that an umpire can give a penalty on certain occasions, including contact with a mark (Rule 31), illegal propulsion (Rule 42), starting errors (in other words being in the box early or not over the start line at two minutes to go), and finally non-compliance with either a second existing penalty or a red flag penalty. In all other cases the aggrieved boat must fly a ‘Y’ flag before a penalty can be given.
Background info: Race Management was led by Lu QiDong, know in English as ‘Tony, who had indeed been a Race Officer of the CCCM in the past, which involved him setting the course and raising and lowering flags - but at no time had he umpired a match in the event.
In fact, such was his performance at the Club Cup that, as the event grew, he was not up to the task and a number of years ago he was replaced even in his relatively minor role. This replacement roughly coincided with Lu QiDong being ‘dropped’ by the CYA (Chinese Yachting Association) after a 470 sailor died during an event at which he was Principal Race Officer.
At the Dianshan Regatta skipper’s briefing Mr Lu declared that no boat was allowed into the ‘box’ before four minutes – the actual rule states that they must be ‘outside the box AT four minutes’ which any match racer knows is more than a small difference.
We would like to believe that the organizers simply believed what they were told by Lu QiDong, but when they were informed that his claim of experience was clearly untrue they declined to issue a correction to potential competitors.
It is sad that someone who obviously doesn’t understand the rules to a basic level should use the name of China’s top match racing event (the China Club Challenge) to further their own ends at the expense of competitors who entered this local event in good faith.
Alistair Skinner, who has been part of the umpire team of the China Club Challenge Match for each of the past seven years, confirmed that Mr Lu QiDong has never umpired any match at this event (which next year reaches its 10th birthday). Additionally, Mr. Skinner resents the reputation for accuracy and fair play that the Club Cup has built up over the years being abused for personal gain by an individual in this manner, and is concerned by the potential damage to the Club Cup’s reputation by such a poorly policed event claiming to be run by the same team, which it clearly wasn’t.
On the other hand, perhaps when sailors sit back and compare the two events it will only serve to further boost the already high reputation of the China Club Challenge Match.
[For the record, the author of this story was NOT part of the team incorrectly penalised. Ed]