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Gladwell's Line - Emergency Meeting over World Champions' visa denial

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com on 2 Jan 2016
Yoav Omer is sprayed with champagne - RSX Worlds - RS:X Class Youth World Championships, Gdynia, Poland RS:X class.com http://www.rsxclass.com
World Sailing have issued a second media release updating on the refusal of the Malaysian government to issue entry visas to two current world champions so they could compete in the 2015 Youth Worlds.

The media statement says that World Sailing, the re-branded International Sailing Federation, world governing body of the sport, has received an interim report on the issue, and will be holding an 'emergency' meeting of the Executive Committee on January 8.

The media statement is an exercise in damage control by the world body and can be read in full by clicking here

Firstly it sets out its commitment against discrimination in a sailing context.

World Sailing stands by its commitment to both the Olympic ideals and ensuring that competitions taking place under the auspices of World Sailing permit all sailors to represent their country and to compete fully and equally. World Sailing has always taken this issue very seriously and undertakes to clarify and strengthen this requirement of all future World Sailing event organisers, if required, once the full report is concluded.

The thrust of the media statement is to hold the Israel Sailing Association and the Malaysia Sailing Association accountable for the history of the matter and then position World Sailing where it can put in place a set of procedures which are forward-looking.

That position ignores the fact that World Sailing has a conflict of interest, in fact, it has several issues of its involvement that need to be addressed.

The International Sailing Federation, now World Sailing, was named as one of the two organisers of the World Youth Championship, along with the host Member National Authority (MNA), Malaysia Sailing Association, when the Notice of Race for the 2015 Youth Worlds was published on December 8, 2014 - over a year before the start of the event.

For the official release from ISAF and formal Notice of Race click here

Entries opened on March 25, 2015. Entry was made online to the Youth Worlds website listed as an official website of the International Sailing Federation. MNA's had to enter specific sailors against their entry and event by July 1, 2015.


Clause 3.5 of the Notice of Race states - A MNA in good standing with ISAF may enter one crew in all or any of the following events - and then lists the nine events to be contested at the regatta.

By close of entries on July 1, 2015 both the ISAF and MAS as Youth Worlds organisers should have known that Israel Sailing Association had entered two sailors in the Boys and Girls RS:X event.

At that point in the timeline, it was, or should have been known to the ISAF staffers that there would be a visa issue given the Malaysian Government's refusal to issue entry visas to Israeli sport competitors, except in very special cases, which require cabinet approval. That policy is long standing.

Going back to the start of the timeline of this sorry saga, Malaysia Sailing Association should never have applied to host the regatta. They would have been well aware of their Government's anti-Israel stance on immigration visas, and that being the case they could not comply with the intent of Clause 3.6 of the Notice of Race.

While World Sailing can call for an internal report, it cannot credibly investigate this serious matter as an independent body because it is clearly an involved party.

Further, as part of its normal administrative cycle, ISAF/World Sailing holds a formal six monthly meeting cycle, at which it Events Committee receives a formal report on the upcoming Youth World Championships. In the May meeting held in Amsterdam the Event Committee minutes state simply 'The Committee received a progress report on the 2015 ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships.'

There is no reference to the Youth Worlds in the Executive Committee (comprising the President and Vice-Presidents) of that time.

Minutes for the Annual Conference held in Sanya, China in November 2015 are not yet published. World Sailing's Youth World Championship Sub-committee also met in this cycle, before the Events and Executive Meeting.

There are only two conclusions that can be reached from this cycle of reporting and meetings that either the long-standing diplomatic antipathy towards Israel and only the remote chance of visa issuance to two Israeli competitors who were current world champions was not raised.


Or that a series of professional sports administrators along with the members of the Youth, Events and Executive Committees were unaware of the long-standing visa issue for sports people between Israel and some Muslim countries. That is rather hard to believe.

Further, we know from the timelines supplied to Sail-World that the visa application for the Israeli sailors and coach was made by Malaysian Sailing Association on October 15. It is not known whether World Sailing was made aware of the application being made at that time. Most likely not.

The visa application by the MSA was rejected by the Malaysian Government on November 5. That was three days before the World Sailing Youth Committee met on November 8, in Sanya, China, and again it is hard to believe that either the matter was not discussed, or mentioned at that or higher levels in the organisation.

The only other explanation is that World Sailing regarded these sort of political shenanigans as being par for the course, and accorded the matter little real urgency.

The latter explanation gained credibility when it emerged that Oren Jacob, an Israeli Laser Radial sailor was forced to sail under similar conditions to the Israeli Youth team, in the 2015 Laser Radial World Championships in Oman, in November 2015.

Sail-World understands she too, was banned from wearing any team clothing, and if she won a Medal at the regatta no Israeli anthem, and no Israeli flag would be displayed. Sail-World is also advised that she too was subject to the same delays in issuing an entry visa, however fortunately it arrived, albeit late and she missed at least two days training. She was recorded in the results under her correct national designation and sail number.


CAS principles need to be applied

Because of their level of complicity in the organisation of the Youth Worlds it is hard to see how the Executive Committee of World Sailing can produce a report into the issue that could be considered to be objective and balanced, and not be seen as self-serving.

In 2015 after a series of Hearings reviewing a decision of the International Jury into measurement issues surrounding four regattas in the 2013-2013 America's Cup World Series. The Court for Arbitration for Sport made some comments about ways that improvement could be made to sailing judicial process.

One of those was the appointment of a prosecutor to independently investigate an incident and then place that matter before an International Jury for contemplation and decision. CAS felt that the process adopted by the America's Cup Int Jury was flawed in that some members of the Int Jury were tasked with investigating and interviewing, and then being part of the adjudication process.

(After a de novo Hearing CAS concurred with the decision reached by the International Jury, but altered the length of the competitor's suspension, which had been set by the ISAF's Disciplinary Committee.)

As a consequence, World Sailing is introducing the prosecutorial concept to Level 1 events (which include the Youth Worlds) in the 2017-2020 edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing.

For this investigation to have any credibility World Sailing must adopt the same process in its own affairs as it prescribes for the sailors.

Whether that function is done by an individual or a small team is immaterial. The investigation must be independent before its findings are referred to World Sailing's disciplinary bodies for a decision and possible action.

The matter is very serious and goes to the very core of what World Sailing should stand for as administrators - which is about fairness and quality of competition. There can be no compromises on these ideals. Otherwise we don't have a sport, just a sham competitive environment.

One of Aims of World Sailing stated in its Constitution is 'to promote the sport of sailing in all its branches regardless of race, religion, gender, physical ability or political affiliation'

One of the Obligations of membership, again stated in the World Sailing Constitution is: 'It shall be the obligation of a
Member National Authority, Associate Member and ISAF Member to ensure that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of race, religion or political affiliation against any competitor representing a Member National Authority'

From what we know that Aim and Obligation appear to have been breached in the visa issuing scandal.


World sailing also needs to know if it has been misled by individuals or groups, including whether those involved have been economical with the truth. Clearly the timelines are such that had early action been taken there were options that could have been taken by the world body, including a venue switch.

'Grave Conditions' imposed on Israeli team
The Notice of Race for the Youth Worlds is clear. That entry shall be open to all MNA's in good standing with World Sailing, who are allowed to enter one sailor/crew in each event.

While the sea-lawyers will try and argue that was the case in this instance - that Israel was able to make the entry, it was just that the host government refused to vary their immigration policy and prevented the two Israeli sailors from competing.

As the CEO of Israel Sailing Association, Smadar Pintov has advised Sail-World.com 'Israel Sailing Association followed all the instructions given by the Malaysians. A list of grave restrictions were sent to us but visas didn't arrive until the day of departure and even not later. '

'Wishing that this New Year will be a year in which all athletes from all around the world will be able to participate in such competitions. '

Sail-World is endeavouring to find out whether the Israel team would have agreed to compete under those 'grave conditions'.

The matter is very serious because it is not just a matter of visa issuance, but the fact that two current world champions were barred from entering a major World Championship and potentially having their names to the long list of those who have gone before - many of whom have stepped onto the Olympic winners podium just two or three years later.

The barring of two world champions has also compromised the status of the competition in that those who compete and stand on the medal podium in Langkawi in the RS:X class will always have a shadow over their success - because they know that the world champions in their event did not compete because they were not allowed because of an immigration decision made on political grounds.

That is a massive compromise of the sport, made even worse by the deceit of the Malaysian Government in first claiming that the visa denial was made on security grounds, and then after the regatta had started saying that their motive was purely political.

On that basis, it is a win-win for the Malaysian politicians. First they have scored a political point by having Israel forced out of the world championship. Second, they have deprived Israel of being able to celebrate success in winning two medals, maybe both of them Gold.

That calls for more than just an adjustment of future process and procedure.

Heads must roll, and be seen to do so.

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