Triple gold medallist and star of British Olympic sailing, Ben Ainslie had a dramatic uncharacteristic outburst when he was leading the latest Finn class ISAF World Championships. Frustrated by a media photography boat that repeatedly interfered with his progress on a downwind leg, Ainslie jumped off his boat to board the media RIB. A brief altercation with the crew ensued, before Ainslie dived back in to the sea to return to his dinghy.
An international jury disqualified him from both races that day, removing any chance of him winning the championship. However, he had an agonising wait to discover whether any other penalties would be imposed – the incident could have prompted a two-year ban that would have scuppered his hopes for a fourth Olympic gold medal this summer.
As Britain’s national governing body for the sport, it fell to the Royal Yachting Association to deliver any further penalty. This tribunal was also able to consider evidence that was not available to the original International Jury.
It agreed with the decision of the International Jury that Ainslie’s behaviour amounted to a gross breach of good manners and conduct that brought the sport into disrepute. However, it ruled that, as disqualification from the two races had cost Ainslie the world championship title, no further penalty was necessary.
The incident also highlighted the issue of interference from media boats at Olympic and other world-class events. The Tribunal panel noted: “…there was an apparent lack of active management of media boats at this and previous events, leading to repeated infringements of the provisions of the event media boat guidelines. In addition, formal rights of redress against official boats were not available to competitors.”
After the ruling Ainslie commented: “I welcome the RYA Tribunal’s decision and am looking forward to fully focussing on my Olympic preparations. I deeply regret the incident, but would like to thank all the governing bodies involved for their thorough investigation.”
Stephen Park, manager of the British Olympic Sailing Team, added: “We’re grateful for the support and openness of all parties involved as we all try and take the opportunity to learn from the incident and improve future interactions as sailing looks to enhance its media exposure and accessibility.”
All Photos : © Robert Deaves/International Finn Association