Laser Class Rules Under Assault - Radial and 4.7 Names Being Dropped

"che colui che inganna, troverà sempre chi si lascerà ingannare" // "he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived."
 -- Machiavelli -- Il Principe -
The Prince

A recent posting by the Laser class ILCA on its official Facebook page refers to « festive #laser sailing » and features an Italian fleet of Radials. One of the sailors even wears a Santa hat.

Yes, in this holiday season, you may believe there is a sense of peacefulness. That there may be a truce in the Laser disputes.

It looks all perfect. Yet, is this a perfect holiday season for Laser sailors?

Not really.

Festive Laser Sailing ... Really?
While posting this Christmas holiday picture featuring Radials, the International Laser Class Association - ILCA - has a special Christmas gift for its membership.

Yes, ILCA is already acting, in a way some will call machiavellian, towards dropping the Radial and 4.7 names, along with the Laser name, for the iconic single-handed dinghy that is soon to celebrate its 50 years of existence.

Nobody was really consulted, certainly not the sailors. Just a few individuals within ILCA's World Council, several of them representing commercial interests, are making extremely important decisions for thousands and thousands of sailors, without any mandate from those sailors.

When it launched its last minute vote last summer, the only change to the Laser Class Rules that was put forward to the class membership referred to the definition of a builder.

The rule change just removed the obligation for the builder to be « a manufacturer that has the rights to use a Laser trademark. »

We previously covered how questionable that vote was, as implemented on an ill-suited online survey application, and with members being misled to vote yes « to make sure Laser stays Olympic. »

The class did not make the results of the vote public, and ordered instead an audit from a consultancy company, that it kept confidential.

But from the beginning, the class was actually already operating a name change towards ILCA Dinghy, although it confused everyone with « debranding » notions and the suggestion that several brands could be used in the future.

What was certainly not made clear by the Laser class was their goal to drop the 4.7 and the Radial names for the boat.

Note that the Laser 4.7, which is now an amazingly successful youth class, is not even an Olympic boat. It is a direct victim of all the changes operated by the Laser class to keep the Laser Radial and the Laser Standard Olympic, and to reduce as much as possible the influence of LaserPerformance.

It's already pretty inconceivable that a class called International Laser Class Association puts so much effort to get rid of the Laser brand. Many companies spend millions and millions of dollars, and decades, to establish a brand. The Laser class seems to do just the very contrary.

Not long ago, the North American Laser class had posted this photoshop montage for the 3 rigs, suggesting the 4.7 and Radial would be maintained, even if the Laser name and logo were replaced.
Initial Laser Class Plans Were Apparently to Keep the 4.7 & the Radial
The recently unveiled "ILCA 4" sail shows that the 4.7 logo is now completely removed. Pretty questionable orange triangles were also added to the sail.

According to an informal online poll, the new design is widely seen as terrible!

It's not clear yet how the Radial and Standard sails will look like. Will the class have similar ideas for their new design?

Both the 4.7 and Radial names are extremely well established. There are numerous references to both the 4.7 and the Radial names in the Laser Class Rules.

Yet, the Laser class did not submit to a membership vote that the Radial and 4.7 names would be dropped.

The member countries of World Sailing may not have understood either what was going on. They unanimously voted to keep the Laser and the Radial as the Olympic boats for 2024!

The member countries of World Sailing are now confronted with a situation where there will actually be neither Lasers nor Laser Radials any longer - even if those are still the World Sailing recognized single-handed dinghies, at the time of publishing this article, according to the World Sailing website.

Will World Sailing offer the Laser class new "proposed arrangements" so that ILCA Dinghies, and not Lasers, can compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics?

« Formulate the rule change as precisely as possible »

"ILCA 4 Sail" to Replace the Laser 4.7 Sail
In the official Laser Handbook, one can read « If you have a good idea for a rule change … formulate the rule change as precisely as possible. »

Reality is that the Laser Handbook, which is the reference manual of the Laser class, does not seem to be taken seriously by the Laser class itself.

Did the Laser class formulate as precisely as possible its plans to drop the Laser name? Of course not.

Did the Laser class formulate as precisely as possible its plans to drop the Radial name? Of course not.

Did the Laser class formulate as precisely as possible its plans to drop the 4.7 name? Of course not.

Did the Laser class formulate as precisely as possible its plans to have new ILCA 4, 6 and 7 names for the existing rigs? Of course not.

Likewise, the assertion by the Laser class that it can still call itself International Laser Class Association is somewhat puzzling.

Note that the Laser class holds trademarks for ILCA, but not for International Laser Class Association.

Again, changing the class name could have been something the class could have put to a vote last August, but it didn’t.

What is also noteworthy, but hardly surprising given the way ILCA is being handled these days, are additional changes made to the Laser Class Rules on the Laser class website.

Those can be found when comparing the versions of the Laser Class Rules in the official Handbook and in html form on the class website

Most references to the Laser name were indeed removed in the html version of the Laser Class Rules.

Instead of making those changes via the membership vote this past August, it looks like some word processing of the class rules simply took place instead.

Yes, a bit of word processing seems even more convenient than a vote à la SurveyMonkey!

Most occurrences of the Laser name were simply replaced by « the boat ». For example, « The Laser is a strict one-design dinghy » became « The boat is a strict one-design dinghy. »

Contrary to the Laser name, the Radial and 4.7 names still appear in the html version of the Laser Class Rules, but not in relation to the Laser.

For example, in Part 4, « Radial Rig » replaces « Laser Radial. » In a similar way, « 4.7 Rig » replaces « Laser 4.7. »

Maybe more word processing changes of the Laser Class Rules may be forthcoming ...

Such changes to the Laser Class Rules may be illegal, as one cannot change that easily the bylaws governing a corporation. The legality of the SurveyMonkey vote is also pretty questionable.

If this will be challenged in court is another matter.  Without a court challenge, the Laser class may get away with all of this.

FRAND Monopolistic Pricing

Regarding pricing, the new ILCA / PSA sails are sold at continued elevated prices for maximum profit - US$600 for sails that are manufactured at extremely low cost thanks to cheap labor - probably for less than US$50 - in Asia.

The price for the boats has also reached an all time high in North America: US$9,200 (exluding taxes) for the ILCA Dinghy imported from Australia - while LaserPerformance USA still lists its class-legal XD Lasers at US$7,350 (but it’s not clear if they have any left).

Such pricing for a Laser becomes way too high compared to what the boat is worth, and may increase the exodus out of the Laser class, to the benefit of the RS Aero, the Waszp and other more contemporary single-handed boats.

New "Club Edition" Lasers Sell for Just US$5,399.00
Despite its decertification by the Laser class, LaserPerformance is expected to continue supplying Laser equipment at more affordable prices.

You can get a complete new « Club Edition » boat for US$5,399.00 -- but this is not class-approved equipment, even if the boats are identical, except for the ILCA / World Sailing plaque.

Yes, it now costs thousands of dollars to get an ILCA / World Sailing plaque in a Laser!

When Devoti and the Italian government started their antitrust complaint vis-à-vis the Laser and World Sailing, did they anticipate that the result, at least in the short and medium term, was going to be an Australian quasi-monopoly, equipment shortages and inflated prices?

Probably not! Sometimes, there are differences between economic theory and reality.

And all this talk about fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licencing - FRAND - ended up with supply shortages and even higher prices!

And don’t hold your breath to get new builders to offer more affordable boats any time soon.

The process to get approved is slow, bureaucratic and expensive, and there will be new fees levied by the class on approved builders, which will have no choice but to try to recoup their costs.

As we previously analyzed, even for an estimated 2,000 new boats per year, there will be an over-capacity if say 3 or 4 new builders are approved, as this would keep production levels per builder pretty low and would keep prices high.

Journalist Richard Gladwell estimated that the number of new class-approved hulls in 2018 was only 1,200, and this number may even be lower in 2019, given all the supply issues that are currently experienced. How many builders can be viable with such a low annual production?

Moreover, most of the new technical and bureaucratic demands on new builders are probably unnecessary. In fact, the existing Japanese builder would probably not even be able to conform to the new requirements dictated by class.

There are also continued high risks of trademark or other litigation, and of course lots of confusion and maybe even anger with the Laser, Radial and 4.7 names and logos being replaced, without the sailors even being asked their viewpoint.

LaserPerformance seems increasingly unlikely to be reinstated as an authorized builder - despite reassurances to the contrary given to World Sailing member national authorities last August, in view of getting them to vote for the Laser for Paris 2024.

EurILCA will soon need to assess the situation and figure out what kind of follow up it will give to its January 1 ultimatum to the international class ILCA, which revolves around 3 points: reinstatement of LaserPerformance as a builder; rapid reform of ILCA’s governance; and independent testing and membership vote on any new rigs.

World Sailing probably made a mistake to approve the Laser for the 2024 Olympics on the basis of promises, on the basis of « proposed arrangements » by the Laser class.

Now is the time for World Sailing to step in to resolve the situation, especially as things could get even worse.

Suggested Readings for More Background

Laser Update: Equipment Shortages, Name Change, Legal Action & More

Laser Update: ILCA Faces European Ultimatum

Laser Update: SurveyMonkey Vote Audited, Reviewed and Verified!

How World Sailing Confirmed the Laser for the 2024 Paris Olympics

Laser or ILCA Dinghy: Which One is Fastest?

Fake Laser Sailboats at 2024 Paris Olympics?

Aussie Lasers: Damaging ILCA Emails Released

The Laser at the Crossroads

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