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2024 Olympics: Laser Class Assoc drops builder bombshell

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.nz/com 27 Mar 2019 17:25 PDT 28 March 2019
International Laser - 2016 Olympic Regatta, Rio de Janeiro © Richard Gladwell

In an interesting piece of timing, the International Laser Class Association has announced that it has removed Approved Builder status from the European manufacturer of the class, Laser Performance

The move follows the conclusion of World Sailing's Evaluation Trials for the One Person Dinghy to be nominated as the Equipment for the Event at the 2024 Olympic sailing Regatta in Marseille.

The standard rig Laser was trialled against three other singlehanders selected from a long list of eight boats by World Sailing.

The trials were held in Valencia, Spain and the Laser will either be re-selected in its current or a changed configuration , or one of the Melges 14, Devoti D-Zero or RS Aero selected in its stead.

The Laser has been an Olympic singlehander since the 1996 Olympic regatta, and is arguably the worlds largest single handed class. It is manufactured under very strict one design control and may only used ILCA approved parts and equipment in International and World Championships. For the

ILCA says it is seeking new builders to complement its existing network of manufacturers.

The class governing body, which is controlled by Laser sailors and owns copyright to the design, comes on the back of a claim that longtime builder of the class dinghy, in Europe Asia and the Americas, "Laser Performance (Europe) Limited (LPE), breached the terms of the Laser Construction Manual Agreement (LCMA), which seeks to ensure the identical nature of all Laser class boats, regardless of where they are built."

“We’re disappointed to see such a long and productive relationship come to an end, but we had to move ahead in order to protect the level of competition and the investment for the 14,000 members of the International Laser Class and the more than 50,000 sailors around the world who regularly sail the Laser dinghy,” said Class President Tracy Usher in a written statement published on the ICLA website.

LPE's main manufacturing facility is located in UK and Usher claims ICLA "terminated the LCMA with respect to LPE after the builder’s refusal to allow inspection of the boats being built in their manufacturing facility as required by that contract."

“The very heart of our class is the ability for any sailor to race any other on an equal playing field, and the only way we can guarantee that level of parity is by ensuring that all builders are producing the boat in strict accordance with the Laser Construction Manual,” explained Usher in the written statement.

He claimed that LPE had unequivocally denied the class their right to access to LPE’s factory. “It’s the same for every class of one-design racing boat: if we can’t be sure that they are all the same, we have no class left,” said Usher, who said that LPE left the class “no option.”

There are two other manufacturers of class legal boats, one in Japan and another in Australia.

In the same written statement on the ICLA website, Chris Caldecoat, General Manager of Performance Sailcraft Australia (PSA), maintains his company is able to take up the slack if needed. “PSA has sufficient capacity to supply the market until new builders are appointed in Europe and around the world,” Caldecoat said. “We have and will always do what is right for the sailors and the sport.”

New ILCA Executive Secretary Eric Faust, who took over as ILCA Executive Secretary in 2015 replacing long-time ICLA Secretary Jeff Martin (GBR) who held an emeritus position within the class until his untimely death in a skiing accident on January 11, emphasized that there will be no disruptions to the the 2020 Olympics or to any major ILCA event. “Performance Sailcraft Japan will supply all the boats for the Olympic competitions in Tokyo, while the next two World Championships are in regions with Performance Sailcraft factories. These are existing, class-approved builders so we expect no issues,” said Faust in the announcement. “We’re confident that we’ll see new builders coming on line soon, and that we’ll once again have a robust dealer network around the world in plenty of time for the lead up to the 2024 Olympics,” he added. With PSA and PSJ supplying boats and parts to sailors formerly served by Laser Performance over the next few months, Faust expects the disruption to class owners to be minimal or non-existent.

The full statement can be read by clicking on the Class Association website

On January 22, 2019 the Texas-based, ICLA posted a response on their website to claims ICLA attributed to Laser Performance which claimed, among other things, that their company is “suffering from an onslaught of litigation and legal challenges from the International Laser Class Association in coordination with Bruce Kirby and his Australian partners at the Performance Sailcraft Pty group….” The statement goes on to say that this has caused “a diversion of millions of dollars into legal fees which would have been otherwise available to our sailing community initiatives.”

For its part "ILCA strongly and adamantly denies these claims. ILCA is not a party to any lawsuit against any person, entity or builder, including Laser Performance, and has never initiated any lawsuits nor coordinated or conspired with any other entity in bringing any litigation or legal challenges."

The full ICLA statement can be read clicking here

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