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Why people keep cheating

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Why people keep cheating

Clarisse Crémer finished the toughest regatta in the world as the best woman. Now she is suspected of cheating. She wouldn’t be the only one. The temptation to gain advantages in sailing through illegal means is great.

Clarisse Crémer chats with her husband after arriving at the Vendée Globe’s destination port. She finished the 2021 round the world race in twelfth place.

Loic Venance / AFP / Keystone

Of all people? Clarisse Crémer, everyone’s darling at the last Vendée Globe, is said to have cheated? The reaction to press reports that Crémer cheated on his circumnavigation three years ago made headlines in the French press a few days ago. The now 35-year-old sailor is said to have exchanged WhatsApp messages with her husband, who was stationed in France, about weather information and a possible choice of route. This is forbidden according to the regulations in the Vendée Globe. The sailor, ranked twelfth as the best woman three years ago, vehemently denied it: “I didn’t cheat!” she said on social networks.

Fraud, cunning and trickery are not uncommon in professional sailing. The Crémer case brought to mind a particularly audacious deception that occurred just last September. In the Figaro Regatta, two sailors had downloaded weather files during the second leg. One of the two, Benoît Tuduri, admitted that he had taken a second phone on board with which he could connect to the Internet. He was excluded from the race.

Cheating until death

A month later, Marie Tabarly, the daughter of the French sailing legend Éric Tabarly, was punished less severely. In the Ocean Globe Race, which is based on the first regatta around the globe and is held in retro mode, i.e. completely without modern technology, she was given a 72-hour penalty because the seal on her communication bag, in which everyone was, was broken The crew’s phones were located. According to her explanation, this happened by mistake when the bag was moved.

Clarisse Crémer will celebrate her arrival in Les Sables-d’Olonne in 2021 after the Vendée Globe.

Stephane Mahe / Reuters

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In sailing, the temptation to trick is so great because most things cannot be controlled on the water – especially since the athletes are often traveling alone. However, Yvan Bourgnon learned that fraud does not go unnoticed even in the most remote corners of the world. The Swiss man, who claimed to have crossed the Northwest Passage on a six-meter sports catamaran without outside help, had to admit, according to clear evidence, that he had used the towing assistance of two boats and spent several days in a hotel. The untruth only came to light by chance, after a German sailor casually mentioned her help.

Modern technologies make cheating in sailing easier, but cheating has been done before. False information even led to a tragic end in the first non-stop race around the world in 1968/69. After Donald Crowhurst determined that his trimaran was too slow and unseaworthy for victory, he radioed fake positions. When it became clear that the fraud could no longer be covered up, he became delirious and subsequently took his own life by going into the water. The ship’s chronometer and the fake logbook disappeared with him.

In 1981, a major fraud shocked the American sailing world. In a regatta that was used to qualify the then popular Admiral’s Cup, the three first-place boats were disqualified because they were more than a ton too light. Was it a surveying error, collusion, or the removal of illegal lead weight? The circumstances were never fully clarified.

One of the disqualified yachts was piloted by Dennis Conner, who later won the America’s Cup four times. Years later, the most popular sailor in the USA appeared as an accuser himself: at the America’s Cup in Auckland in 2003, he accused Oneworld of stealing construction plans; Together with Luna Rossa, he called for the American team to be excluded, which the jury rejected.

The America’s Cup, the oldest sailing regatta in the world, was already a hotbed of illegal profiteering in its early years. The Briton Thomas Lipton was beaten by the USA five times in the first thirty years of the last century, as the Americans interpreted the regulations in their favor several times. In 2013, the sailing world was hit by “Cup Gate”: American Cup defender Oracle was convicted by the jury of unsportsmanlike conduct and cheating and given two penalty points for the Cup final against New Zealand.

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Three team members, including world-famous trimmer Dirk de Ridder, were excluded from the Cup and subsequently banned for three years. The three were directly or indirectly involved in equipping a racing catamaran with unauthorized additional weight during the World Series (Cup preparation regatta).

Oracle CEO Russell Coutts called the incident “an unfortunate mistake.” The people who would have done that felt terrible. But at the same time, Coutts put the affair into perspective: “I don’t think it’s right to portray 130 people in a team as fraudsters.” However, Grant Dalton, the boss of the challenger Team New Zealand, found clear words: “You can’t come to any other conclusion than that they cheated.”

In an interview with the German magazine “Yacht”, Jochen Schümann, three-time gold medalist and two-time cup winner with Alinghi, welcomed the jury’s verdict: “It’s good that an example is being made here! We want to be a clean and fascinating sport, and then a few people drag the sport into the mud. The worst thing is the bad image that the Cup has given off for two years.” Despite the two minus points, Oracle won the cup against New Zealand in San Francisco with a 9:8 win.

Paul Henderson, president of the World Sailing Federation (formerly ISAF, now World Sailing) from 1994 to 2004, came to a devastating conclusion during his time in office: “Cheating is rampant.” Kim Andersen, one of his successors, received a strong letter in 2018 from Andrew McIrvine, admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, founded in 1825, in which he wrote that measures should be taken against widespread “cheating in sailing”. An actual culture of fraud is becoming more and more widespread.

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Christian Scherrer puts such statements into perspective. “The situation regarding ethics and fair play in sailing has improved in recent years,” he says. The Zurich resident, long-time sailing professional in the offshore sector and in the America’s Cup as well as the organizer of many regattas and sailing expert at SRF, is considered one of the best experts in sailing. As team leader, he will lead the Olympic sailing team in Marseille. “The problem is finding the necessary competence in the relevant control bodies,” he says. Ultimately, says Scherrer, everything depends on the behavior of the sailors and their supervisors.

Tough action against fraudsters called for

But apparently quite a few still find it difficult to resist the temptation to gain advantages. During the annual crossing of the Atlantic for cruising sailors, which takes place in the form of a rally, it often happens that people cheat on the number of engine hours driven. One crew that won the class claimed to have driven for five hours under power. But she was suspected of having operated the diesel for eleven days, all the way from Cape Verde to St. Lucia. But no one protested.

The Crémer case will soon be judged by a three-member jury. The couple is threatened with a ban from taking part in the next Vendée Globe. The sailor does not rule out a plot against herself and her husband. The accusation was made anonymously. “Who,” the French woman asks, “has an interest in us being discredited?” Crémer alludes to the fact that there are 44 candidates for the fall race, but only 40 starting spots. There are voices in France’s professional sailing scene calling for tough action. Fraud is fraud, they say. No toxic culture should be able to prevail.

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