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Fair go! Meet the Kiwi race officials flying the flag at the Olympics

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Alistair Deaves, Megan Kensington and Jamie Sutherland are all accomplished sailors in their own right - but they will be representing New Zealand in a slightly different capacity at the Paris Olympic Games in July and August.

Deaves and Kensington have been appointed to the Games' technical committee as international race officers, while Sutherland is one of 26 judges on the international jury.

We caught up with them about their sailing journeys and what they can expect in Marseille, where Olympic sailing will be contested. 

What will your role be at the Games?

Deaves: I have been appointed as part of the technical committee for the Games, specifically as the international technical officer (ITO) for the Nacra 17 class. An ITO is normally a World Sailing international measurer (IM) for the class. Our job is simply to ensure that the racing is fair at the equipment level. The first three days are spent with pre-event inspection and making sure each boat complies with the class rules (the technical documents that govern the class). The classes are given a selection of local volunteers to help with the process. Each boat will have an hour for us to undertake all the checks. Then, while the racing is on, we will continue to check for rule compliance both on the water and in the boat park after they come ashore. 

Kensington: My role is also as an ITO and I am on the iQFOiL and kitefoil race management teams. I expect that I will either be on the pin end of the start line or the finish boat. My role, along with the other technical officials on the course, is to ensure that the racing is run to World Sailing standards and is fair for all competitors.

Sutherland: At the Paris Olympics I will be a judge on the international jury. There are 26 judges on the jury, with countries only allowed one judge each. During the day, I will be on the water following the sailors in order to help keep the racing fair. Principally that involves looking for and penalising illegal propulsion under Rule 42. We also position ourselves at pinch-point locations on the course to witness any possible boat-on-boat incidents. After racing, I will be part of the panel that hears protests lodged by the sailors.


Alistair Deaves is one of three Kiwi race officials going to the Olympic Games. 

Is this your first Olympics? What are some of the other big international events you've been involved in? 

Deaves: This is my first Olympics. I was appointed to the Paris 24 test event held last year in Marseille and also to the 2023 sailing world championships in The Hague. For both events, I was appointed as an ITO for the Nacra 17 class. I have also been at several Nacra 17 world championships, both as the deputy and chief measurer. I am also an international measurer for the OK Dinghy and have run the measurement at a number of championships.

Kensington: This is my second Olympics - I was also an ITO for the Tokyo Games (as well as the Tokyo test event). Other events I have been involved in are the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships in Auckland (in 2019), the Para sailing world championships in the Netherlands last year, the women's world match racing in Auckland and, in the past, have been involved in the local Volvo Ocean Race stopovers and an America's Cup.

Sutherland: This is the first time I have been to the Olympics. I am very excited to have been appointed as I have a passion for Olympic sport. My first memory of the Olympics was the Munich Games in 1972 - I was travelling in the United Kingdom at the time and recall watching the Games live on colour TV, which was a real thrill as New Zealand still only had black and white TV at that time! All these years later, I feel very privileged to be appointed as a judge at the Paris Olympics. The biggest international event I have been to is the 2023 world championships in The Hague - which had some 950 boats and 1300 sailors. It was a qualifying event for Paris, so the sailing was highly competitive on and off the water - the jury heard about 170 protests or requests for redress. Other significant events in the last 12 months are the CORK sailing festival in Canada, the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, and the OK Dinghy and Etchell world championships.

What is your sailing background? 

Deaves: I started sailing in the early 1980s in the UK and bought my first OK Dinghy in 1984. The OK class has both defined my experience of sailing and the paths I have taken. I have sailed the OK now for 40 years, competing in 18 world championships. My best result was eighth place in the 2011 worlds in Largs, Scotland, with the highlight of the week winning the last race. I came to NZ, as part of the British team, for the OK worlds in Napier in 1994. I returned after the worlds in Adelaide in 1998, met a nice Kiwi girl and never went home! In 1999 I won the OK Dinghy interdominion championships in my then ‘home club’ of Napier. New Zealand has been my home for the last 25 years. 

Kensington: Most of my sailing has been in keelboats and I have sailed with some awesome women in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron women's racing and women's national keelboats. 

Sutherland: I started racing when I was 13, in a 12-foot catamaran called an Arafura Cadet. Since then, I have raced A-Class catamarans, Tornados and Paper Tigers, which I still race when the opportunity arises.


Megan Kensington (second from right) will be officiating at her second Olympic Games. Photo / Live Sail Die

And how did you become a race official?

Deaves: I first became a measurer for the OK Dinghy back in the mid-90s. I was trained under Don Andrews (GBR) who was the IM for the OK and the then-chair of the OK Dinghy International Technical Committee. I still blame him (often) for starting me off down this path. I took over as chairman of the OK Dinghy technical committee in 2009 and still hold that position. In 2017, I attended a World Sailing measurer's clinic and seminar held in Auckland and organised by Yachting New Zealand and Mackay Boats. I was talked into taking the seminar and test and applying to be an IM - and a year later I found myself an international measurer for the OK. In 2019, the Royal Akarana Yacht Club hosted the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 world championships and I volunteered to help. I worked under Chris Henderson with the Nacra 17 class and, within a year, I also became an IM for the Nacra 17. In 2020, I was nominated by the OK Class for a position on the World Sailing International Measurers Committee. World Sailing then asked me to be the vice-chair. I have always tried to take the opportunities when they were presented to me - and being appointed to the Olympics is another step on the pathway.

Kensington: I became an RO by accident. I was injured and went out on the start boat to help and, over time, somehow ended up being trained to be a race officer. I was lucky enough to be mentored by some really good race officers, such as Peter Carr, Harold Bennett, Judy Salthouse and John Parrish. I also had a lot of support and encouragement from the umpire community when I was running a lot of match racing. Some of the international umpires helped me get invited to a few events overseas so that I could gain experience for my International Race Officer qualification.

Sutherland: I became involved as a race official over 20 years ago. Initially, I qualified as a national race officer and a few years later as a national judge. At that time, our club had no judges and struggled to put an experienced committee together to hear protests. About 10 years ago, Russell Green encouraged me to become an international judge. I received wonderful support from him together with other judges during the journey to qualify.

What is the best part of the "job"? 

Deaves: The major perk is the international travel and meeting a lot of people. There is a lot of satisfaction from doing the job well and having the sailors come up and say 'thanks'.

Kensington: There are a couple of things that stand out - one is the satisfaction of coming off the water after a good day's racing, knowing that the courses were good, and seeing the fleet split across the course because it was fair and everything has gone well. The other highlight is the people I get to work with - both the race officials and sailors. 

Sutherland: The best part is still being involved in the sailing community and participating in high-level events. I regularly work with friends I raced against many years ago and I am still meeting new people and making friends at events. Sailing truly is a sport for life. I also get a lot of enjoyment from judging at club level. 


Jamie Sutherland is one of 26 judges overseeing the Olympic sailing in Marseille. Photo / Adam Mustill Photography

What are you most looking forward to in France? 

Deaves: Apart from getting away from the New Zealand winter, I am looking forward to working as part of a good team. We have all worked together in the past and it is a good bond. The main aim is to leave knowing that we have done the best job possible for the sailors.

Kensington: Apart from the obvious – summer weather, the French food and wine – I am looking forward to connecting with the other technical officials at such a high-level competition. Many I have worked with before and are friends and some I have not met yet. It is great working with them all as we are always learning from each other as well as having friends all over the world.

Sutherland: Mostly I am looking forward to being part of the Olympic Games. I expect there will be a lot of atmosphere and excitement in the city. It will be great to be a part of that.

What are your thoughts on the depth of race officials in NZ? How do we ensure we keep producing people of international quality? 

Deaves: Unlike the race officers and judges, measurers are quite disconnected within New Zealand - most measurers are chosen by and work only for their class. There are certainly a lot of good measurers in NZ and to bring them from the classes to an international level will involve more World Sailing clinics and seminars and the support to attend them and events. NZ is possibly the hardest place from which to have an International Race Official career simply due to its distance from where the majority of events take place. Creating a pathway for measurers should be the next job. I have recently joined the Yachting New Zealand race officials committee, so we hope to work towards connecting the measurers more and developing this pathway.

Kensington: We have some really good race officials, however, we need to do a lot of work to keep bringing people through. In particular, there has been a drop in the number of umpires and judges coming through, and we do need to increase the number of women involved as technical officials - so we need to understand the barriers for women to get involved. Another challenge is there are a lot of regattas in Europe and it can be quite difficult for New Zealand and Australian race officials to get experience at that high level due to the travel cost. Having world championship regattas in New Zealand does help, but they can be very expensive to run.

Sutherland: In New  Zealand, we are very fortunate to have excellent race officials at club, national and international levels. They are enthusiastic and committed to doing the best job for our sailors. Yachting New Zealand has a programme to train new race officials and develop those progressing through to higher levels - and believes it is highly desirable to have qualified race officials in all our clubs. The first step is to qualify at club level, which in most cases is sufficient to serve club needs. Much of this training can be done online. There are also numerous training seminars and focus group meetings for officials to build networks and learn best practices from more experienced officials. Being a race official allows people to continue participating in the sport even after they feel their competitive sailing days are over.

Click here for more information on starting your journey to becoming a race official.