**Ben Glover is in Dubai courtesy of Sail GP, covering event seven in the 2022/23 SailGP season
SailGP officials are under pressure to come down hard on verbal abuse after furious Canada driver Phil Robertson was hit with a professional foul for teeing off at the umpires over a penalty call.
On a day that tested the patience of world sailing’s superstars due to the whisper light winds that made it at times impossible to get the boats up on their foils, both Robertson and Australia driver Tom Slingsby had smoke coming out of their ears due to the way the three races were umpired.
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While Slingsby managed to keep his temper in check enough to avoid a professional foul on the water, he didn’t thin his words when speaking to the media afterwards, revealing he’d been having an ongoing battle with SailGP officials “for three years” over the way umpires adjudicated close calls between boats jockeying for position.
Slingsby copped penalties in races one and three in a disastrous day for the championship leaders.
Australia sits eighth of the nine boats halfway through the inaugural series stop in Dubai, needing nigh on a miracle to qualify for Sunday’s three-boat final.
Robertson’s Canada sit midfield in fifth place, just one point shy of third and a place in the final, but that could change if officials follow through with warnings that they would strip points from crews who overstep the mark with the way they address the umpires during breeds.
Speaking after race three, both USA driver Jimmy Spithill and New Zealand’s helmsman Peter Burling raised the prospect of further action against drivers who verbally abused the umpires, with Burling saying bluntly, “you’ve got to play the whistle”, adding the “course language is not what we want to see in our sport”.
Spithill took it a step further, reminding the officials of their power to dock points.
“Luckily for us all that was happening behind us in the last race but I certainly heard it all,” Spithill said. “But I think the question is, ‘will the umpires take points off guys for abuse?’, that’ll be interesting.
“We’ll see, it’s up to them, I mean they’ve warned us. I guess, how many times are they going to warn us?”
While Robertson was red hot on the water, he was unwilling to throw fuel on the fire after the race, answering questions about the umpiring in a conciliatory manner.
“There’s probably a few people fired up about it, but look, it is what it is,” Robertson said. “It’s tricky, I think when it’s this light and boats are going very slow it’s a really different game to sort of umpire and it’s something that we’ll always try to improve and get better at from the sporting side, and the decision-making side as well from the umpires, but it’s not easy.
“We got a little bit of a rough one in the last race that we weren’t too happy about. I was a little bit surprised at the call. But we’ll go back and review it and see how they saw it and listen to them and hopefully it’s productive and everyone can improve.”
Asked if he regretted the way he spoke to the umpires, Robertson replied: “Look, yeah, I think everyone’s under a lot of pressure and you hear a lot of people talking to the umpires so it gets a bit frustrating when you have calls go against you at times. You want to bite your tongue, but in the heat of the moment sometimes you let it slip.”
Robertson added that he had “no idea” if Canada was in danger of having points stripped over the heated moment.
Slingsby, who is occasionally teased by other drivers in press conferences over his temper – he was goaded prior to the 2021/22 grand final in San Francisco by rivals Spithill and then Japan driver Nathan Outteridge about his “red mist” – said the communication between drivers and officials would be significantly better if the umpires improved their adjudication.
“We disagree with some of the penalties that were given,” Slingsby said.
“They were a shock to us and then I heard the other teams and they were a huge shock to them as well. I think Phil Robertson might have got a professional foul for wearing at the umpires. I wanted to. I managed to restrain myself on the race committee (radio) channel. I might have said some things outside of that. It was frustrating.”
Slingsby added that he’d be having a frank discussion with the race committee before Sunday’s racing started in an effort to change some of the interpretations that were being made during boat-to-boat racing.
“We’ve been doing it for three years now and for me it feels like it’s… well, if it is improving it’s very slow.
“These are issues we’ve been facing a lot and they’ve now got a coach (renowned sailing official Richard Slater) in to coach the umpires and I think it’s his first event here, and I think it’s just showing he’s got a lot of work to do, he’s got a tough job ahead of him.”
Scary’ course looms for Slingsby
While that may be the case, Slingsby has got just as tough a job ahead of him to turn Australia’s Dubai Grand Prix around after a shocking day of results.
An incredible recovery from a penalty in the last race on Saturday for a fourth place has given Australia a glimmer of hope, but eighth place finishes in both the first two races has the two-time defending SailGP champions languishing in eighth place for the weekend on 13 points, a whopping seven points back from New Zealand in third.
Atop the standings sits Great Britain after Sir Ben Ainslie piloted the team to wins in race two and three and a 25-point haul for the day, putting them five points in front of the United States (20) and New Zealand (20) in second and third respectively.
With the wind forecast to pick up for Sunday’s races, Slingsby will need to engineer a miracle to get Australia into the three-boat final, but if anyone is capable of that, it is the series leaders.
“Honestly, I’m not even going to think about the final tomorrow, we just need… points wise it might be mathematically possible but everything has to go our way,” Slingsby said.
“It’s one of those events where we’ve just got to save the event and not come away with a last or a second last. Even if we come away with a fifth after today it’s almost a good result for us, we’re so So it’s one of those days where we just need to go out and get good clean races and not worry about the final.
“If we go out there and win three races we’ll worry about the final after that.”
DUBAI GP STANDINGS AFTER RACE DAY 1
1. Great Britain (25), 2. United States (20), 3. New Zealand (20), 4. France (19), 5. Canada (19), 6. Switzerland (18), 7. Denmark (18), 8. Australia (13), 9. Spain (10)
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