Almost from the moment Rio was confirmed as the venue for the 2016 Olympics, there has been criticism of the sailing venue. Chronic pollution has been recorded, including pathogens in the water that would close beaches in most other parts of the world. Floating debris, including dead dogs and babies nappies, have been spotted by sailors competing at lead-up events. Deadlines to clean up the mess have been and gone, with no satisfactory resolution.
The latest catastrophe is the outbreak of the Zika virus that is suspected of causing deformities in new-born babies. While the World Health Organisation has called it a “public health emergency of international concern” both the IOC and World Sailing say the Games must go on.
But here's a question we posed to World Sailing: If the venue is so safe, why have you found it necessary to markedly bolster the wording of your Disclaimer of Liability/Risk Statement.
We compared the Notice of Race for London and Rio and found a huge difference. The London statement was a single sentence yet for Rio it has been deemed necessary to add six dot points.
At London they called it a Disclaimer of Liability. Clause 23.1 reads:
Athletes participate in the Sailing competition entirely at their own risk: see RRS 4, Decision to Race. The Organising Authority will not accept any liability for material damage or personal injury or death sustained in conjunction with or prior to, during, or after the Sailing competition.
However, if you want to compete at Rio, the warning is much more dire. Called a Risk Statement, it reads:
Athletes and support teams participate in the regatta entirely at their own risk and they are reminded of the provisions of RRS 4, Decision to Race. Sailing is by its nature an unpredictable sport and therefore involves an element of risk. By taking part in the event, each athlete and support team member agrees and acknowledges that:
a. They are aware of the inherent element of risk involved in the sport and accept responsibility for the exposure of themselves, their crew and the boat supplied to them to such inherent risk whilst taking part in the event;
b. They are responsible for the safety of themselves, their crew, their supplied boat and their other property whether afloat or ashore;
c. They accept responsibility for any injury, damage or loss to the extent caused by their own actions or omissions;
d. By participating in any race, they are satisfied that their boat is in good order, equipped to sail in the event and they are fit to participate;
e. The provision of a race management team, patrol boats, umpires and other officials and volunteers by the organiser does not relieve them of their own responsibilities;
f. The provision of patrol boat cover is limited to such assistance, particularly in extreme weather conditions, as can be practically provided in the circumstances.
World Sailing's Head of Events, Alastair Fox, responded to our query with the following:
We are constantly reviewing all of the rules we use for our events – Notice of Race, Sailing Instructions, Equipment Regulations, Support Team Regulations, etc. I can assure you that the changes to the Disclaimer of Liability / Risk Statement have nothing to do with Rio.
In 2014 I put together a group of people within World Sailing to look at all of the documents we used at major events in an effort to create standard templates with consistent wording we could use from event to event and ultimately to the Olympics.
As part of the process we reviewed a number of rules and where appropriate we made sensible changes. As part of the review we looked at London 2012 documents, Beijing 2008 documents, Sailing World Cup documents, ISAF Worlds documents, etc.
In 2014 I was responsible for the first Rio test event, the Santander ISAF Worlds and the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. At all of those events we used the generic Disclaimer of Liability in the NoRs:
Competitors participate in the regatta entirely at their own risk. See rule 4, Decision to Race. Neither the Organizing Authority nor ISAF will accept any liability for material damage or personal injury or death sustained in conjunction with or prior to, during, or after the regatta.
However, for the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games we actually used the new Risk Statement in the SIs for the first time. The Risk Statement was based on something the RYA had started to develop for use at UK events.
We then rolled out the Risk Statement in the NoR for all Sailing World cup events in 2015 and have done the same for 2016. In 2015 there were Sailing World Cup events in Melbourne, Miami, Hyeres, Weymouth, Qingdao and Abu Dhabi. 2016 is the same. In 2015 we also included the new Risk Statement for the 2015 Rio test event and we have done the same for the Rio 2016 Olympics. We will obviously review the wording going forward but the Risk Statement is what will be used for all major World Sailing events in the future.
I hope this helps you understand the reality of the change.
So perhaps I'm a conspiracy theorist. And I appreciate the response from Alistair – the old ISAF would have ignored my email completely.
– Roger McMillan