What questions do we need to ask? A life lost.

This is going to be a tough day in the sailing world, as we grieve the loss of a great athlete and friend in Andrew Simpson.

Emerging out of the grief as always – will be the questions. In catastrophic failures there are always questions. And the most important thing will be – what are the best and right questions to ask? Change, if it is to be made will be driven by these questions. If the right questions being asked – the important things will change and the right things will stay the same. If the wrong or lack of good questions are asked – the wrong things will change or stay the same.

Artemis Racing, Day two sailing the AC72, 15 November 2012, Alameda, USA

So what are the right questions to ask?

  • What does Paul Cayard need to ask himself and his team?
  • What does Iain Murray and AC Event Management need to ask themselves?
  • The lawyers? The sailors? The host towns?
  • What are the productive questions for the sport itself to wrestle with?

Racing big fast sailboats is a risky sport. Competition, by design, creates the environment for risk. That’s the nature of competition. High-tech platforms and extreme environments add additional risk to the equation – whether it be high speed downhill skiing, racing cars, planes and powerboats, snowboarding & skateboarding half pipes or hundreds of other sports. As we saw on the road to the Final Four – you can compete inside a building on a small square of wooden floor with a ball and a hoop and still risk extreme injury.

A big failure does not mean the competition should stop, or the platforms should be downgraded in performance, or the athletes should be limited in what they can pursue in excellence – but it does mean that risk needs to be assessed.
In light of this catastrophic event…

  • What are the real risks going forward?
  • What risks are we willing to live with?
  • What risks must we decrease or eliminate?
  • and ultimately – How do we manage these levels of risk we identify?

These are the same type of questions we have to ask ourselves as a nation when it comes to national security, or health issues or product development. We can’t eliminate risk. And the more risk we work to eliminate – the more our freedom to move around, use products and seek unconventional solutions may be limited. Some limiting of risk is important – to protect us from unforeseen greater harm. However, there comes a point in the ‘risk elimination equation’ when the limits that would be imposed on us go beyond what we are willing to embrace. How safe do we really want to be? and thus – what are we willing to do/give up in order to achieve that level of safety? Do we shut down airports, public transportation and big audience events so terrorists have less of a chance of wreaking havoc?

These are very hard questions that need good and courageous thinking, and dialogue.

As the AC teams and all involved hit the ‘pause’ button to ask questions – I hope they are the right questions. The questions that deal with risk. When risk is clearly identified and quantified – it can be managed.

Part of Andrew’s legacy – will be for all of us to ask the better questions.

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