Who Owns Sailboat Racing?
It's been reported that the president of US Sailing has raised the question of whether all racing sailors in the US should be required to be members of US Sailing. President Capron cited other sports, such as tennis, that require athletes to be members of their national governing body.
But, how true is that comparison? Does someone who plays tennis at the local city courts have to be a member of the US tennis association? Fer shore, Bubba doesn't have to be a member of a national bowling congress to throw a few balls to scare some pins at the bowlin' alley down the street! And the very same bowling congress makes it easy for anyone to join and even for them to compete at a high level. Yet with far too few community sailing programs or opportunities to give sailing a casual try, it is often difficult for newcomers to find a place to begin unless they're willing to make a commitment to often expensive classes or to attempt to penetrate the forbidding facade of a yacht club.
And whereas a few sailboat races involve Olympic Sailors, and more races involve class associations that are affiliated with US Sailing, most sailboat races are purely amateur affairs that have no direct connection with the more rarefied levels of the sport. Most sailboat races are rather casually administered, and a whole lot of sailboat racers barely know what US Sailing is, and many have never received any direct benefits or contact from US Sailing. Many of US Sailing's programs don't trickle down very far to the level of the casual racer. Perhaps many sailors, both racers and cruisers, don't see themselves receiving direct benefits that outweigh the cost or inconvenience of membership.
So, the hold of the national sailing authority upon casual weekend sailboat racers would seem to be rather tenuous. To what extent can US Sailing really enforce a membership prescription as part of the Racing Rules? To what extent should US Sailing try to find out why membership hasn't always been enticing to every Joe or Jane Average Casual Sailboat Racer?