Scuttlebutt News Center: The Q Factor - ISAF World Sailing Ranking System
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Mark Reynolds "In ’02 I sailed in two continental championships, the Europeans and the North Americans, finishing 1st in the NA’s and 2nd in the Europeans. Both had about 65 boats, but for my first in the NA’s I got less points than the 22nd finisher at the Europeans! I’ve tried numerous times to point out the problems with the Q factor, but with ISAF it just falls on deaf ears!" - Mark Reynolds, 3-Time Olympic Medalist

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Scuttlebutt News Center:

The Q Factor
ISAF World Sailing Ranking System

by Gary Bodie, US SAILING Olympic Coach

(July 2, 2004) The central inequality in the ISAF Ranking System is that it requires non European athletes to compete in Europe in four or five events every year during a four year Olympic quadrennium if they desire to maximize their ranking, while a European sailor would only have to venture outside of Europe once every four years. That works out to NINETEEN trips to Europe for a non European, and ONE trip outside of Europe for a European in a four year period (see notes below).

1. Question: How many Grade 1 events are there outside of Europe where the Q factor equals 1.5?
Answer: Miami OCR in the Star class. Bacardi Cup in the Star class if it retains its Grade 1 status. There may be others, but I cannot find any.

2. Question: How many Grade 1 events are there in Europe where the Q factor equals 1.5?
Answer: Usually four every year in almost every class; Hyeres, Spa, Kiel and the European Championships.

3. Question: What is the Q factor, and why does it matter?
Answer: The Q factor ranges between 1.0 and 1.5 depending on the Number of top thirty ranked sailors that compete in the regatta in question. Assuming Grade 1 status, a win in a Q=1.5 regatta is worth 675 points, and a win in a Q=1.0 regatta is worth 450 points. The Q factor for World Championships is automatically 1.5. The Q factor for Hyeres, Spa, Kiel and European Championships is almost always 1.5.

Michael Blackburn, AUS, is ranked number one in Lasers in June 2004. He counts five events where Q=1.5 and two where it counts less. His tenth place finish in Kiel is worth 614 points while his first place finish at SIRS (Q=1.23) and third at SAIL Melbourne (Q=1.23) are worth only 555 and 544 points respectively. Michael is “giving away” 200 ranking points assuming he could finish top three in Hyeres, Spa or Kiel.

Rober Scheidt, BRA, is ranked second (June 2004), but his ranking suffers severely because he has only competed in two events (Kiel 03 and Hyeres 04) in Europe during the past twelve months other than the World Championships. His 2004 win at the Laser Central and South American Continental Championships does not even make it onto his list of seven counting events since the Q factor only equals 1.13. Robert is “giving away” 500 ranking points.

Paul Goodison, GBR, is ranked third (June 2004) and only counts one event where Q does not equal 1.5 (Miami OCR 2004, Q=1.23). Paul “gives away” 100 ranking points.

4. Question: How should a sailor go about maximizing his ISAF Ranking?
Answer: Win the World Championships and the Grade 1 events where Q=1.5, during the current year. Effectively, to maximize your ranking points, you must compete in the Worlds every year, and also four Grade 1 events where Q=1.5. That would be Hyeres, Spa, Kiel and European Championships. Coupled with the two Worlds that would account for six of the seven events that are summed for your ranking. For your seventh event you can count a Q=1.2 event or a year old Q=1.5 event. If you count less than four current year events where Q=1.5, you are “giving away” hundreds of ranking points.

5. Question: Do the Q=1.5 events have better competition and deserve to be more heavily weighted?
Answer: YES, the unfair part is that all the Q=1.5 events are in Europe, and the ranking system virtually requires participation in four of those events every year. Also, more and more of the World Championships are being held in Europe.

6. Question: What is ISAF doing about this situation?
Answer: ISAF inadvertently made it MUCH WORSE for the non-European sailors. The ranking rules previously stated that no more than three Grade 1 events could be held on one continent in a given year. ISAF was ignoring their own rules and giving the European Championships Grade 1, Q=1.5 status in addition to Hyeres, Spa and Kiel for a total of four events on the same continent. When it was pointed out that ISAF was not following the rules, they simply changed the rules to reflect current practice instead of rigorously enforcing the current rules. They seem to have made this change in the ranking rules without a formal submission being submitted or considered.

7. Question: What SHOULD ISAF do about the situation:
Answer: Here are some options that are included in a US SAILING submission;
  a. Count no more than three Grade 1 events per continent.
  b. Count no more than five events in the ranking summation.
  c. Grant automatic Grade 1, Q=1.5 status to all continental championships.
  d. Change the Year Weighting Factor (YWF), Change the definition of N in the Q factor (N being currently defined as Number of top thirty ranked sailors that compete in a regatta, which effects where The Q factor is set within the 1.0 to 1.5 range. The current definition of N is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. All the Europeans are in the top thirty, so you have more difficulty getting a high Q factor outside of Europe, and so more Europeans are in the top thirty, and on and on.).

8. Question: Would those changes make a dramatic difference in the rankings?
Answer: No. The difference would be subtle. Most Europeans sailors would stay nearly the same relative to other Europeans. Non-Europeans that do not live and train continuously in Europe would move up by a few places and perhaps two hundred points. Specifically, if no more than three Grade 1 events per year were allowed on a continent, the Europeans would have to get together and decide not to count either Hyeres, Spa, Kiel or the European Championships in a given year. They could make a different decision in different classes. The effect for non-Europeans would be one less mandatory European regatta per year in order to maximize their ranking. The second option of counting only five events would also mean one less mandatory regatta for non-Europeans. The third idea of granting Grade 1, Q=1.5 status to all the continental championships may be the best idea, and might also actually encourage participation outside of Europe. In the examples above, Goodison could actually improve his score by competing in the North American Laser championships, and Scheidt would get some real points for winning the Central and South American championships.

9. Question: Gary, what do you recommend?
Answer: Thanks for asking. I would suggest incorporating all of the following changes;
  a. Grant automatic Grade 1, Q=1.5 status for all six continental championships.
  b. Grant Grade 1 status to no more than three events per continent. Assuming Grade 1 for the Continental Championships, that would mean only two others could be Grade 1 and potentially Q=1.5. Allow the class organizations in each continent to determine which events are Grade 1. In Europe, Tornado might choose Palma and Hyeres, while 470 might choose Spa and Kiel.
  c. Grant Q=1.5 status automatically to three classes at Sail Melbourne, and three classes at Miami OCR and three classes at events to be named in Asia and South America. For Miami OCR that might be Star, Yngling, and Tornado which are getting close to Q=1.5 anyway. For SAIL Melbourne it might be Laser, and 470 M&W. This suggestion is not included in the US SAILING submission, but fits into the idea of creating a World Series of Sailing. Eventually this automatic Q=1.5 would not be needed as participation grows.
  d. Continue to count seven events, and leave the YWF the same, but change the N factor to reflect World Championship results.

10. Question: Who cares?
Answer: Most non Europeans consider the ISAF Ranking System to be seriously flawed, but nobody cared very much since it did not count for anything. More sailors began to pay attention when ISAF decided to use the rankings for entry quotas into the 2003 combined World Championships. The organizers of Princess Sofia in Palma are now using the ISAF rankings to restrict the entry numbers in that event. The changes suggested above would actually do more to change the number and relative rankings of the non Europeans in the 50-100 range than it would to the top ten in each class.

11. Question: How do we make this happen?
Answer: ISAF is deferring the US SAILING submission claiming that it would be too expensive to make the changes in the computer code to study the ramifications. Forget the study, call the question, and demand a vote on the council floor. Make the amendments suggested above and pass the motion. The non Europeans can carry the vote if they so desire. While we are working on the rankings, demand that ISAF codify the rankings as a regulation so that submissions may be made in the future for orderly change.

Opening Paragraph: Assuming that 3 of 4 World Championships are held in Europe between 2005 and 2008, a European sailor could compete in Hyeres, Spa, Kiel and the European Championships each year in addition to the three WC’s in Europe. Since there are no Grade 1, Q=1.5 events outside of Europe, they could count a one year old Grade 1, Q=1.5 event as their seventh event in their summation without detriment. They would have to travel once outside of Europe to attend the one WC outside Europe. A non European would have to make nineteen trips to Europe in order to maximize their ranking. Every time they substitute a non Q=1.5 event they “give away” 100-225 ranking points. The arithmetic is incontrovertible.

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