UPDATE: We are now told that the only two people being protested under Rule 69, which will be heard by the Jury on Thursday, are Messrs Witt and Hayles. Whether or not others were protested by EDIO is not clear. So far VOR Management have declined to make a copy of the protest available to Sailing Illustrated. -TFE
CAPE TOWN – Your Ed. is reliably informed, and we have confirmed through several of our normal top sources, that a Rule 69 protest has been filed against Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and their skipper David Witt (AUS), helmsman Steve Hayles, the On-Board Reporter (a VOR employee), and another person involved with the dissemination of the video in question. Rule 69 reads:
MISCONDUCT – A competitor, boat owner or support person shall not commit an act of misconduct. Misconduct is: (1) conduct that is a breach of good manners, a breach of good sportsmanship, or unethical behaviour; or (2) conduct that may bring the sport into disrepute.
Note that the latest version of this rule has been changed subtly but with significant effect. Previously the rule was titled "Gross Misconduct" and also referenced gross misconduct in the text, not just "an act of misconduct" which, obviously, is a much lower threshold.
What misconduct is alleged to have been committed?
During Leg 2 (Lisbon - Cape Town) the team rehearsed, taped and then sent the video below to the team publicist who, apparently thinking it was funny and appropriate, posted it to the team website and beyond. It then auto-posted to the VOR website with comment from a VOR media staffer.
Others did not think it funny at all, but rather degrading to the only female member of the crew, who, it is alleged, was coerced into participating. It is not clear from the video whether she knew the gist of the skit in which she played a role before it was taped, but clearly from her reaction she was not amused, perhaps mortified. Bear in mind, too, that she is an employee of the skipper/CEO.
The video begins with Mr Witt laughing, along with helmsman Steve Hayles (GBR), saying, "Adult warning – everything in this segment will offend most sections of the public domain...."
Volvo Ocean Race has caused the video to be deleted from YouTube, but you can watch it here.
Some see this as sophomoric, frat boy humor; others see it as sexual harassment. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but enough people from around the world, male and female, reacted to the video and complained to VOR officials that they quickly took it off the web, and now a Rule 69 protest has been filed.
Under new World Sailing procedures, for major international events there is an "Event Disciplinary Investigation Officer" in case such matters arise. The relevant WS regulation:
At major international events, an investigator (known as the Event Disciplinary Investigation Officer) is appointed and makes decisions as to whether cases of Misconduct should be presented to the protest committee. If a case is to be presented, the matter proceeds to the protest committee at the event, which makes decisions as to any penalties appropriate to the event in question. Appeals against such event - level decisions are governed by the RRS, which exclude appeals from decisions of an international jury acting in accordance with RRS Appendix N.
Our sources tell us that the EDIO reviewed the matter and referred it to the VOR International Jury. Mr. Witt, Mr. Hayles, the Scallywag On-Board Reporter ("OBR"), and another person involved in posting the video to the web have all been named in the Rule 69 protest.
The jury hearing is scheduled for this Thursday in Cape Town. It can't be heard before then as the jury is in the meantime flying into Cape Town for Friday's inshore race and the start of Leg 3 to Melbourne on Sunday. The jury's possible actions range from exoneration to disqualifying individuals or the yacht from the balance of the event.
You can read about the jury procedures, including the names of the members and alternates, on the VOR website here.
Is this a tempest in a teapot? Or is there misconduct here that should be penalized? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and if you think there was misconduct, what penalty would be appropriate.
By the way, one also hears that there is another protest brewing – from a team alleging that Dongfeng Race Team broke the sail/gear stacking rules during Leg 2. We'll have more on all this on our Tuesdays with TFE Facebook Live netcast tomorrow at 1300 Pacific / 1600 Easter / 2100 UTC.