Ainslie confronted media after feeling that the camera boat’s wake affected his race result. It’s a situation that is quite new for sailing, but not unknown in sports where the relationship between the media and the athletes can be a delicate one.
Earlier this year, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney received a 2 match ban for swearing at a camera. The player claimed that a Sky cameramen broke an unwritten rule by going on the pitch to get a close-up of the striker.
In sailing, there are quite a few instances of media boats and spectator boats getting in the way, but perhaps none of them were as ‘important’ or as public as this race. At the start the last Sydney Hobart Race, Wild Thing collided with a camera boat that didn’t realise how fast the maxi-yacht was travelling. In 2009, Dee Caffari was thrown overboard when an Extreme 40 skippered by Shirley Robertson hit a specator boat in Cowes. And earlier this year, an AC45 was impeded in a race when a large hospitality boat found itself inside the race-course during the Plymouth round of the America’s Cup World Series.
Then there are the situations which go unreported. Like light wind events during the World Match Racing Tour where sailors shake their head and occasionally throw their hands in the air and plead with marshals to do something about the proximity of spectator and media boats. In those cases, the sailors don’t find themselves in front of a jury – justifying why they are not guilty of misconduct or bringing the sport into disrepute – but this case is different.
In Ainslie’s case, a jury hearing found fault from both the media and the sailor, but disqualified the Skandia Team GBR sailor from both of the day’s races for gross misconduct.
In an offiical statement Ben Ainslie said:
I overreacted to what I thought was a situation where I felt my performance was being severely hindered. I’m very thankful that everyone involved has taken it how it was – as something which was blown out of proportion in terms of what actually happened. We’ve all apologised to each other and are looking forward to moving on.
I’m obviously really disappointed with the decision. Unfortunately it’s part and parcel of the sport trying to develop its area within TV and in a number of instances this week that line has been crossed and that’s something which everyone has to accept is a development.
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic Manager also blamed a change in the way sailing is communicated:
Unfortunately because of the situation we were in, with the sport trying to move to better television images to appeal to that market, sometimes there’s a learning process to go through from a television perspective and sometimes there are implications and this is an example of one of those.
At the moment the sport seems to be fumbling its way into trying to make the sport more appealing for television but surely there is a better way than trialing new race formats, rule regulations and specifically in this case media initiatives than trialing them at the World Championship which is arguably the most important event in the Olympic cycle outside of the Games themselves.
Even if, as recognised by the jury, the media boat was at fault, Ainslie’s actions, as one of the sport’s most public role models gave the sport of sailing mass media coverage for all the wrong reasons.
Sailing coaches around the world now need to tell young sailors who look up to and respect Ainslie that abandoning your boat, climbing onto a rib – having a go at the media and then swimming back to your boat in front of a ‘stadium sailing’ crowd and the world’s photographic media is not acceptable. And the jury also had to say that from the point of view of the sport – it is not acceptable behaviour.
Meanwhile, the headlines should have been reserved for the medalists like Australia’s Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page who won their second consecutive World Championship in the 470 or the eventual winner of the Finn event Giles Scott.
Ainslie should count himself lucky that he doesn’t play a sport where the governing body takes a zero tolerance attitude to the public behaviour of atheltes. Sports like the NFL have been known to punish players for not tucking their shirts in, while earlier this year, Tiger Woods was fined for spitting on a green in Dubai.