Yachts and Yachting has been reporting on several dinghy world championships over the last few weeks. Enterprise Worlds with 112 boats at Looe in Cornwall (coincidentally the site of our honeymoon but we didn't do any sailing); 112 entries again (another coincidence) entered for the 505 Worlds at Hayling Island; and 111 (ah not quite the magical 112) GP14s sailing in three fleets at their World Championships in Sligo in Ireland.
Fantastic. Huge turnouts. Tough competition against sailors from all over the planet. Truly worthy champions.
But wait. Hold on. Is that last paragraph really true? Scanning through the results for the Enterprise "Worlds" I see three crews from Ireland, one from the USA and one from Sri Lanka. The other 107 entries were listed as GBR, Great Britain. Hmmm -- are you really a world champion if the sailors you beat are nearly all from one country?
The GP14s did slightly better. As you might expect the vast majority of the fleet was from Great Britain and Ireland. Then there was one crew from France, one from the USA, one from Sri Lanka and two from Nigeria. At least they had representatives from four continents, but only barely.
The 505 Worlds apparently had a more broadly based fleet. Strong representation from many European countries and a sprinkling of sailors from USA and Australia. Better. But that's still only three continents out of six (we won't count Antarctica) with nobody from Asia, Africa or South America. Is the new 505 champion only champion of half the world?
So what's to stop me from designing some wooden tub, calling it the "Tillerman One Design", inviting a few friends round to my lake and calling it the Tillerman OD World Championship?
Well, for one thing the International Sailing Federation would have something to say about it. ISAF jealously defends the right to designate when a regatta really is a World Championship. According to the ISAF regulations a centerboard class can hold world championships if it maintains minimum participation averaged across three consecutive events of 30 boats from 8 countries and 3 continents.
So if the 2006 Worlds are typical, the 505s are looking good, the GP14s are failing on the 8 country test and so are the Enterprises. I'm sure these classes are not the only ones just scraping along on the borderline of being able to run "real" world championships. It's no secret that many classes are heavily concentrated in one part of the world such as Europe, North America or Australia.
Does it matter? Maybe not in the big scheme of things. But designating a regatta composed of 95% Brits as a world championship is about as ridiculous as calling a series of baseball games the World Series when all the teams except one eligible to qualify for it come from one country.
Isn't it about time we reserved the title of World Champion for sailors who triumph over a fleet with strong competition from all six major continents?