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Youth Worlds Organisers in hot seat after Israel sailors excluded

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com NZL 29 Dec 2015 03:52 PST 29 December 2015
Yael Paz (ISR) takes RS:X Boys Gold at the 2014 ISAF Youth Worlds © Neuza Aires Pereira / ISAF Youth Worlds

Two Israeli windsurfers and their coach have effectively been denied their right to compete in the World Sailing Youth Championships, which are underway in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Israel is the defending champion in the Boys Windsurfer event, and a repeat of their 2014 success is clearly too big a dead rat for the Malaysians to swallow.

Malaysia is a long time supporter of Palestine, which they are perfectly entitled to be. But the requirements of World Sailing, the re-branded International Sailing Federation are equally clear – that all member nations in good standing are entitled to enter a team in the pinnacle event for Youth Sailing.

The Notice of Race for the regatta issued in early December 2014 has the International Sailing Federation and Malaysian Sailing Association named as joint event organisers.

Clause 3.5 of that Notice of Race states "A MNA (Member National Authority) in good standing with ISAF may enter one crew in all or any of the following events:"

The Notice then lists nine events that will be contested. These Events closely mirror the Olympic Sailing competition, for which this regatta is a major stepping stone.

Many Olympic Gold medalists champions have been winners at the ISAF Youth Worlds, including Sir Ben Ainslie, Sir Russell Coutts, Nathan Outteridge, Iain Jensen (see the full list here).

The ISAF/World Sailing Youth Worlds is a prestigious regatta, ranking just below the Olympic Regatta itself, and is similar in format.

From information obtained by Sail-World it is clear that the ISAF/World Sailing had been aware of the Israeli visa situation for three months at least and had been trying to resolve the impasse between the conflict with the Malaysian Sailing Association, the Malaysian Government and satisfy the requirements of the World Sailing Youth Championship which allowed open entry to all countries, including Israel.

The Israel Sailing Association made their entry for a coach and two sailors in the Boys and Girls Windsurfing event sailed on RS:X boards, the same as used in Olympic competition.

In mid-October, the request for entry was made by the Malaysian Sailing Association to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, a government body charged with the issuing of entry visas.

The request for the visa for the Israelis was rejected two weeks later, on November 5 by the Malaysian Government on security grounds. However, there was an indication that the Government would listen to open discussion. Most Governments deal with such conflicts by issuing short-term visas in situations that are the exception to Government policy.

A further meeting took place on November 30, but with the same outcome as the November 5 meeting – Visas were refused for the Israeli Youth Team on security grounds.

The matter was then escalated to the Malaysian Cabinet, by the Malaysian Sailing Association, but still an exception still would not be made.

Abhorrent deal

At a subsequent meeting with Government officials a tentative offer was made to the Israel Sailing Association subject to the following conditions:

  1. The Israeli team had to compete on an anonymous basis.
  2. The team had to compete as an ISAF team and not representing Israel.
  3. They could only take indirect flights via Singapore to Langkawi (these were believed to have been booked, by the Israelis.)
  4. The Israeli team were not permitted to display any names, flags, logos, theme, colors that would indicate that they were representing Israel and had to portray themselves as representing the ISAF/World Sailing.

  5. The playing of the Israeli national anthem was also prohibited.
  6. The team was prohibited from making any purchases except via a third party.
  7. All outside communication (any form including mobile and digital) was also to be made only by a third party. All purchases and communication had to be approved by Malaysian security.
  8. There was to be no media reference to the existence of the team in Malaysia. Obviously, this restriction would have precluded the Israel Sailing Association issuing media releases as to the teams results, as is done by all national authorities at a World Championship.

A breach of any of these conditions would usually result in Visas being immediately revoked, and the team exited/deported. The latter three conditions were almost outside the control of the team.

Political motive

The restrictions were claimed on the basis of security, due to negative public sentiment.

However that line was contradicted by Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin commenting after Opening Ceremony (see the full story here) who is reported as saying:

'Today we saw how all are happy and pleased with Malaysia's organisation of the tournament. Nothing was mentioned by the World Sailing representative to me on the issue because they know our policy,' he told reporters after officiating at the tournament tonight.

The Youth and Sports Minister was commenting on the decision barring Israel's Yoav Omer and Noy Drihan from entering Malaysia recently to participate in the regatta.

Khairy is also reported as saying the decision was not made by him but by the Malaysian Government's Cabinet in accordance with Malaysia's foreign policy under which the country does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Indeed, the stance now being taken by the Malaysian authorities appears to be one of celebration rather than contrition, pointing to this being a deliberate political act rather than an administrative omission.

While Israeli security were precluded from being sent with the team, it is not known whether this was even requested or intended. Most countries would prohibit the intrusion of external security services.

Security issues are generally for a team to determine, having regard for their own safety, and on that basis whether they wish to participate. In events such as the Volvo Ocean Race, precautions have been taken by organisers to reduce the risk of piracy and other security risks to competitors.

It is not clear whether the Israel Sailing Association accepted competition under these terms, which would have been completely abhorrent to any other country.

In any event Visas for the team to enter Malaysia to compete in the World Sailing Youth Championship had not been received by the Israel Sailing Association by December 24, and the team had no option but to withdraw – which achieved the Malaysian political objective.

The President of the Israel Sailing Association, Amir Gill had strong words for the event organisers – the Malaysian Sailing Association and World Sailing/ISAF.

"The demands made by the Malaysians are unacceptable, and as we did not get the Visas, we decided not to participate. We condemn the anti-Israeli conduct of the organising committee of the competition. We will not accept to be humiliated."

In 2011, an Israeli boxer, Ilya Grad, 24, made history when he became the first Israeli to enter Malaysia, after receiving special permission from the country's Muslim authorities, to participate in a national TV Reality Show on boxing.

Media reports at the time stated that he was detained for 25 hours until the Malaysian sports minister intervened.

Despite its political stance on Israel, Malaysia does conduct substantial and growing trade with Israel, mostly in the importation of Israeli manufactured computer chips that are incorporated in various technology products.

World Sailing Inquiry underway

Chris Atkins, a World Sailing Vice-President and member of the World Sailing Executive, has flown to Malaysia, and an inquiry into the matter is said to be underway.

Inquiries of this type usually provide a smokescreen for the involved parties to avoid questions on the matter until the Inquiry is concluded. When completed, the Inquiry Report is then usually declared to be confidential. There has been no comment from MAS or World Sailing as to whether the report will be publicly released in an unedited version.

Legal action has been threatened by Amir Gill, President of the Israel Sailing Association. Quite how this would be undertaken, remains to be seen - and all indications are that the Malaysian authorities believe they are immune from any action, legal or otherwise.

The correct course of action for the ISAF/World Sailing officials to have taken would have been to withdraw the hosting rights for the regatta and allocate these to another country, as has happened previously on rare occasions.

While the World Sailing Executive may claim to have been blindsided by the Malaysian immigration and political tactics, the nation's negative stance toward Israel is well known and easily discoverable within a few minutes on the internet.

On that basis either false undertakings were made by the Malaysian Sailing Association in bidding to stage the Youth World Championship. Or, World Sailing was aware of the likelihood that Visas would not be granted to Israeli competitors and should not have awarded the hosting of the regatta to Malaysia.

Further, it appears from the reaction of the World Sailing Executive, and the fact that correspondence and negotiations had been underway for several months by World Sailing officials, that the elected Executive was largely unaware of the political machinations that were underway. Otherwise, an Inquiry would not have been necessary, as the situation and facts of the matter would have already been known to the World Sailing Executive Committee.

Serious outcomes ahead?

An outcome of the Inquiry, if the Malaysian Sailing Association has made false undertakings, could be that the organisation will be suspended by World Sailing – which may have ramifications for Malaysia's participation in the 2016 Olympic Sailing Regatta.

Or, if World Sailing officials were aware of the situation and had not acted to ensure that all competing teams were allowed to participate on an equal basis, then there are serious management issues to be addressed within World Sailing.

Injudicious comments made by the Minister of Youth and Sport after the Youth Worlds Opening Ceremony confirmed that World Sailing was aware of the Malaysian political stance regarding the issuance of entry visas to Israeli sports team members. The report in malaysiakini.com says the world federation (ISAF/World Sailing) had been informed of the nation's stance about Israel's involvement in any world championship hosted by Malaysia.'

The World Youth Sailing Championships issue comes on the back of ongoing issues being faced by World Sailing over pollution at the 2016 Olympic sailing venue, and the parting of ways with its CEO just five months after his appointment.

The world sailing body also came down hard on a team and sailors at the last America's Cup for being economical with the truth over a measurement issue in a related series of regattas. In that instance a fine of USD250,000 was levied against the team, several sailors were the subject of further disciplinary, including one who received a five-year suspension from the ISAF's Disciplinary Committee (later reduced is severity by CAS to 18 months, or time served).

Quite how World Sailing handles a case of discrimination on political grounds against a Youth sailing team by either its own staff or a Member National Authority will be watched with keen interest by the world sailing community.

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