Sailing is too complicated. We need to simplify it. Right?
One of the best sailors in the world is saying we should rewrite the rulebook and replace archaic nautical terms with language that is easier to understand.
It’s too complicated. We have a rulebook that is like this (holding up his fingers to show a thickness of about an inch). Frankly, I think people have got better things to do than sit at home at night and read the rulebook. Once upon a time, I used to read the rulebook quite a lot – now it bores me to tears to sit down and read a book of sailing instructions before a regatta. We’ve tried to simplify it. We’ve got all these archaic terms, all the nautical terms and all the yacht club BS and we need to get away from that if we are going to encourage more people to participate in the sport.
It makes sense on the surface, but is there a real need to change the rules, or does sailing just need to get better at communication?
Yes sailing has rules and jargon, but all sports have rules and jargon. Formula One racing has two rulebooks – one of sporting regulations which is 37 pages and one of technical regulations which is 63 pages.
Rugby has only 22 rules, but rule 20, which relates to a scrum has 12 parts and some of those parts have 9 sub-parts. Russell Coutts, a New Zealander who by his nationality should understand Rugby, should try explaining the difference between a ruck, a maul and a scrum to people who don’t follow the game.
Here’s an example from the official rules
A maul begins when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates bind on the ball carrier. A maul therefore consists, when it begins, of at least three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier and one player from each team. All the players involved must be caught in or bound to the maul and must be on their feet and moving towards a goal line. Open play has ended.
But Rugby is an old fashioned game, what about the sports that excite the facebook generation? Well skateboarding includes terms like Nollie, Fakie and Indy and snowboarding features phrases like caballarial, crossbone method air and Elgeurial.
An Elgeurial(BFM) is an invert where the halfpipe wall is approached fakie, the rear hand is planted, a 360 degree backside rotation is made, and the rider lands going forward.
So that’s simple isn’t it.
You can’t really imagine Tiger Woods coming out and saying ‘let’s get rid of all this golf club BS, we need new terms for caddie, tee and eagle. Bunker is too hard to explain, so let’s dumb it down to sand-trap.’
Coutts’ argument is echoed by broadcasters trying to make Olympic sailing more accessible for a TV audience. Some think that having an event where the first person across the line is not always the winner is too hard to explain, yet hugely popular events like the Tour de France don’t seem to have a problem with it.
There are many events in the Olympics where this happens – shooting, decathlon, diving, gymnastics and most field events in the stadium.
While it’s great that sailing is finally thinking about the people watching and not just the people competing, it would be a great shame to dumb the sport down while other relatively complicated activities help their audience understand. Poker has managed to educate millions of people about blinds, flops and rivers
The idea that sailing needs to be simplified is a lazy alternative to making the effort to teach the rules to a new audience.
It could be argued, that having a distinct terminology, that celebrates proud nautical heritage of most countries’ history is a great thing for the sport and that having invested the time to understand the rules, a fan is more likely to be a long-term supporter. If a spectator doesn’t have to learn the rules, then they can switch their attention away from the sport more easily when the event is over.
One of the reasons that Russell Coutts is such a great sailor is that he spent the time to read the rulebook. The best athletes of all sports are the ones that know the rules better than the others. The best F1 teams are the ones that interpret the technical regulations most cleverly, the best rugby teams are the ones that understand the differences between the way northern and southern hemisphere referees interpret the rules.
Sailing should be proud of it’s terms. Rather than being ‘yacht club BS’ they permeate our everyday lives without us realising it. The phrases of business and teamwork borrow heavily from nautical tradition – phrases like; all hands on deck, as the crow flies, and perhaps the most used sailing phrase in recent times, bail out.
Sailing should remind audiences, both new and old that when they use phrases like; above board, by and large, carry on, high and dry or overhaul, they are nautical phrases. Why would we give up these terms and replace them with what some marketing or broadcasting person thinks would work better?
What do you think? Is sailing too complicated? Should it be dumbed down?