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Gladwell's Line - World Sailing must address a Sailing Travesty

by Richard Gladwell, on 7 Jan 2016
Israel's Noy Drihan Double World Womens Youth Champion U-19 and U-17 fleets - 2015 RS:X Class Youth World Championships, Gdynia, Poland RS:X
Five major sailing nations have now come out demanding answers over the failure to grant visas to two world champions to compete in the just concluded ISAF World Youth Championships in Malaysia.

Visas were initially refused on security grounds, but after the regatta was opened the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sport said the decision was political.

It has emerged that there appears to have been a sustained pattern of action against Israeli sailors competing in World Championships, without apparent action by World Sailing on the issue.

In the past 12 months at three countries have withheld entry visas from Israeli sailors who had entered regattas, the latest of which was co-organised by the controlling body for world sailing.

Many correspondents to Sail-World on the matter including senior figures in the sport claim that ISAF now rebranded as World Sailing has been “asleep at the wheel”.

Indeed, the world body claimed it was surprised at the withdrawal of the Israeli Youth team just three days before the start of the ISAF Youth Worlds in Langkawi because they were unable to travel on booked flights without entry visas for their destination.

But a review of the Minutes of various Committees of the ISAF and its Executive Committee identified that there could be immigration issues at the time the Youth regatta was awarded to Malaysia in 2011, with the Muslim state having had their policies in place since 1998.

Further, it has emerged that at two other Olympic class World Championships also hosted in Muslim states, that the Israelis had major visa issues or were excluded from competition.

Against that backdrop, it is baffling as to how the world body could claim to be surprised at the latest withdrawal.

Further ISAF office holders and permanent staff were involved throughout the 2011-2015 period over which the latest situation developed, and again it is difficult to understand how the world body could have lowered its antennae over the issue.

Independent inquiry required
The major concern now of both the major sailing nations and media is for a full and independent inquiry into the matter, and for a resolution that will rid the sport of this scourge.

Universally the call has been for the report on the Malaysian hosted world championship to be made public in its entirety, however, many have little confidence in World Sailing’s ability to deliver on that demand.

Several of those whose roles should be investigated seem to be the investigators. Sail-World correspondents are calling for them to be stood aside and for an independent investigation panel to be appointed to both uncover the facts of the matter and to put forward solutions that will ensure that there is no repetition of the incidents of the past 12 months.

There also has to be action against the Malaysian Sailing Association if it is found in an independent investigation that undertakings were made in the hosting agreements and proposals undertaking to allow the entry of all eligible sailors as described in the Notice of Race for the regatta issued in December 2014.

The wider inquiry must also look at the practice of at best creating considerable angst as to whether visas will be issued to Israeli competitors at World Championships and at worst an effective decline.

The issue of imposition of special conditions on Israeli sailors wishing to compete in World Championships regattas for which they are eligible also needs to be thoroughly and independently investigated.

Requirements that they compete anonymously, or under some other country or entity are repugnant, and it is hard to believe that these were not highlighted in regatta reports routinely filed to the world body. And if that matter was disclosed in regatta reports then why it was not acted on in the first instance by the ISAF and suitable actions taken to prevent a repetition.

Now the world body is in a position of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Failure to protect Youth sailors
There is nothing the world sailing body can do to ameliorate the exclusion of two reigning world champions from the Youth World Championships – medals at which have been the launch pad for many successful sailing careers – professional and Olympic. World Sailing cannot turn back the clock, and financial compensation is just an insult, albeit a useful one.

For developing sailing countries like Israel success at these events is extremely important for their domestic sailing and development programs to show credibility to funders and backers and to further develop sailing.

The world body appears to have failed to protect the most vulnerable in the sport. It is difficult to think of a more serious shortcoming for such a sporting body

There has to be penalties imposed on those who have infringed the world sailing bodies’ regulations, aim and objectives. It is not sufficient to pass this matter off as some systemic or communication breakdown. The Minister of Sport and Youth in Malaysia has said that it was a political act – and that requires the strongest response by the world body.

World Sailing faces a major test of its credibility over these incidents. This is not a time for cover-up and damage control but for confession and strong action.

Weasel words and blame-storming are not an acceptable response.

Nothing will be quite so effective as the disinfectant of transparency regardless of the pain that process may cause.

Timeline of a Sailing Travesty:

November 5, 2011 - ISAF World Youth Championship Sub-Committee meets at the Annual ISAF Conference in Puerto Rico, receives a bid from Malaysian Sailing Association to host 2015 Youth Worlds. No presentation made by Malaysia, Recommendation to Events Committee to approve Langkawi subject a successful site visit in early 2012 and satisfactory contractual arrangements. Chairman: Fiona Kidd (CAN)

November 9, 2011 - ISAF Events Committee meets in Puerto Rico, and confirms Recommendation and conditions from Youth Worlds Sub-Committee, but adds a rider on the basis that all ISAF MNAs can participate in the Event. Chairman: Chris Atkins

November 3-12, 2011 - ISAF Executive Committee meets in Puerto Rico, the Committee notes that athletes from nations may be barred entry to Malaysia for the 2015 Youth Worlds. The Executive Committee makes the Decision that the Secretary General, Jerome Pels, will investigate and report back to the Executive Committee in February 2012. Chairman: Goran Petersson ISAF President

November 10, 2011 - ISAF Council meets and considers one proposal from two Councillors for the 2015 Youth Regatta to be shifted to July 2015. That is lost by just 4 votes (21 Against/17 For)

Second proposal from Chris Atkins to approve the hosting of the 2015 Worlds in Malaysia from December 27, 2015, to January 6, 2016. The proposal includes a requirement for a successful site visit and satisfactory contractual arrangements and that all ISAF MNA's are able to participate in the event. Passed 32 Approve, 5 Reject, 1 Abstain.

February 11, 2012 - ISAF Executive Committee meets in Qatar. No report recorded in the Minutes from the Secretary General's tasked visit to Malaysia

November 3, 2012 - ISAF Youth Worlds Sub-Committee meets at the Annual ISAF Conference in Ireland. Receives progress report from Malaysian organisers on contractual arrangements and preparation fro the event. Report received from ISAF Sailing World Cup Manager Tony de la Madrid on his site visit March 28-30. Noted that at this stage there were no major concerns. Chairman: Fiona Kidd (CAN)

December 8, 2014 - Malaysian Sailing Association and ISAF issue Notice of Race for the 2015 Youth Worlds in Langkawi. It states that the regatta if open to all nations in good standing with the ISAF. Each nation is allowed to enter one crew in each of nine events, including two RS:X Windsurfer events. Registration is done online to an ISAF controlled website. Entry can be a two-phase process with countries wishing to enter making their intentions known, and at a later date the individual sailors are entered alongside that first entry slot. Entries for both phases open on February 1 and close on June 1, 2015. Antonio Gonzales de la Madrid is the ISAF Youth Worlds Technical Delegate.

March 20, 2015
(six weeks after entries had opened) ISAF posts an amendment to the NOR under the name of Antonio Gonzales de la Madrid stating that due to delays in opening the online registration the online entry will now open on March 25, 2015, and will close on July 1, 2015. A team that has not chosen its members by close of entries could provide details of the selection system, numbers of sailors and genders at a later date, but had to confirm their entry intention by July 1 2015.

Israel makes an attempt to enter, advising that there will be trials and they are yet to select the individual competitors. MAS responds saying they want the complete team not a two-step process. Israel Sailing Association submits all documents for the two sailors and coach on October 15, 2015.

October 15, 2015 - Malaysian Sailing Association submits a Request for Entry for a coach and to RS:X sailors from Israel Sailing Association (the MNA for Israel) to the Office of Ministry of Internal Affairs of Malaysia (to obtain entry visas for the ISA team for the Youth Worlds).

November 5, 2015, MIA of Malaysia formally rejects application but a further meeting is scheduled for November 30.

November 30, 2015 - Subsequent to the November 30 meeting a letter is sent indirectly on December 15 from MAS to Israel Sailing Association describing an informal offer of seven conditions, and 'not limited to other rules' under which the ISA team 'possibly can participate' The conditions relate to the display of the Israeli flag and logos, the team must participate as an ISAF team, no flags or anthems at opening or prizegiving ceremonies. Letter says restrictions are because of concerns for the ISR team's safety and notes that the Malaysia's policy dates back to 1998 for security reasons, and any request or plea is on a case by case basis

December 24, 2015 - No visas received despite numerous emails being sent by Israel Sailing Assoc. Three days remain before the start of the regatta, and ISA have no option but to withdraw their team, as they cannot depart without entry visas.

December 26, 2015 - World Sailing post a media release saying 'Israeli sailors were granted entry by the Malaysian Authorities under certain conditions that competitors sailing in Langkawi have to adhere to. World Sailing were informed on 24 December by the Israeli Sailing Federation of their decision not to send representatives in the Boys and Girls windsurfing events in Langkawi.' Israel Sailing Association state they have never received Visas for entry to Malaysia. The conditions offered to the ISA Youth Team to compete are quite different from those for other teams.

December 31, 2015
- World Sailing post a second media release saying in part ' World Sailing whilst adamant that the situation is not acceptable under the above principles, acknowledges that delays in communication by both Israeli and Malaysian officials in the lead up to the regatta have contributed to the situation spiralling into the current controversy. This is something that could have been prevented and will be actively managed in the future. World Sailing only learnt of Israel's withdrawal on 24 December, with immediate action taken to obtain factual information on the ground in Malaysia and to respond appropriately to this challenging situation.'

Chris Atkins who was Chairman of the ISAF Events Committee in November 2011, when the 2015 Youth Worlds were approved for Malaysia, and it was noted in ISAF Meeting Minutes in November 2011 that there could be entry issues for some countries, is on the ground in Langkawi, and files an interim report for consideration at an emergency meeting of the World Sailing Executive Committee on January 8, 2016.

January 6, 2016 - Israel Sailing Association CEO confirms to Sail-World that they have been prevented through visa issues from competing at three World Championships in the past 12 months.
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