PtG Article 05.11.2021

World Sailing President lost re-election campaign amid ethical complaints: Case dismissed

In 2020, Kim Andersen lost his re-election campaign for a second term as World Sailing President amid three ethical complaints. Now, World Sailing’s Ethics Commission has dismissed two of the complaints and one complaint is withdrawn. Andersen claims the ethical cases were part of a smear campaign against him prior to the election.

In November 2020, Quanhai Li of China was elected as the new World Sailing President after defeating incumbent Kim Andersen of Denmark by 68 votes to 60. Li’s victory came after a bitter election campaign where several accusations of unethical conduct against Andersen damaged the Dane’s re-election campaign for a second four-year term as World Sailing President. And now, new questions of the presidential election are rising as the third ethical complaint brought against Andersen since 2019 has been dismissed.

An Independent Appeal Panel appointed by World Sailing’s Ethics Commission concluded on 19 October 2021:

“There is no evidence that Mr. Andersen breached the Code of Conduct. In the circumstances the Panel unanimously makes the following award: The charges brought against Mr. Andersen, that he breached provisions of Section 1.9 (a), (b) and (c) of the Code are dismissed.”

The ethical battle in World Sailing has been covered by sailing magazines around the World. ‘Scuttlebutt Sailing News’ has framed the controversy as the result of a cultural clash between a group of old conservative supporters of traditional sailing in classic dinghies and keel boats and a group of younger supporters of modern sailing in new technology-driven boats in mixed gender events that appeal to a broader audience.

However, Andersen has no doubt that the ethical cases were part of a smear campaign against him orchestrated by supporters of his three opponents in the presidential election, Scott Perry of Uruguay, Gerardo Seeliger of Spain, and Quanhai Li. And according to Andersen, all three candidates were supported by IOC Vice President Ser Miang Ng during the election campaign.

“All my opponents in the presidential election were directly or indirectly involved in the ethical cases against me. Perry and Seeliger were parties in the ethical cases. And it is well-known in World Sailing that Miang, who was also involved in the cases, is a supporter of Quanhai Li,” Andersen argues.

According to the former World Sailing President, the timing of the ethical cases and the leak of them to the press, even before the World Sailing Council was informed of the cases, were carefully planned by supporters of his three opponents prior to the constitution of the candidates and the election process.

“I am no longer involved in World Sailing, but I expect World Sailing to investigate the behavior and actions of the persons acting on behalf of World Sailing to prevent the small group of members who ran the smear campaign against me from discrediting the reputation of World Sailing in the future,” Andersen says.

The battle continues

The case against Andersen that was dismissed in October 2021 originates from a complaint that he breached the World Sailing Code of Ethics when signing a contract between World Sailing and consultancy company TSE in December 2016. The connection between Andersen and TSE originates from October 2016 when the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DNOC) proposed to Andersen that TSE should assist him with administrative support during his campaign to be elected as World Sailing President in November 2016.

TSE was subsequently paid by DNOC for the services that it provided but the Independent Appeal Panel notes that the evidence bears out that there was no discussion between TSE and Andersen about TSE providing services to World Sailing in the future. The controversy first began after the presidential election when the agreement between TSE and World Sailing was signed on 14 December 2016 by Andersen and submitted to the Board on 21 December 2016.

According to the Independent Appeal Panel, the agreement was accompanied by an email explaining the extent to which TSE had been engaged at that point in time with the purpose of supporting Andersen in the role of president for World Sailing to build and strengthen the federation within the international sports community and strengthen World Sailing’s connection to the IOC on the political level.

Nevertheless, a World Sailing Council member from Hungary, Gyorgy Wossala, ultimately decided to complain to the federation’s Ethics Commission that Andersen had a conflict of interests. Although the complaint has now been dismissed the battle in World Sailing is not over yet.

In a fourth case, Andersen has submitted a complaint to the World Sailing’s Ethics Commission concerning a conflict of interests when two former members of the Ethics Commission took part in judging his cases: Dieter Neupert of Switzerland, a former acting chair of the commission, and IOC Vice President Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, a former member of the commission who is also accused of misusing his IOC membership to interfere in World Sailing’s presidential election.

“The most important thing for me is not to have my name cleared but to have all aspects of the cases against me illuminated so that people who think this can’t be true are able to understand the realities,” Andersen says to Play the Game.

Case 1: No basis to act

The first case against Andersen and World Sailing CEO Andy Hunt was presented to the Ethics Commission in May 2019 by Gyorgy Wossala and Zvi Ziblat, World Sailing members from Hungary and Israel. The case is connected to events at World Sailings Annual General Meeting in November 2018 when the World Sailing Council decided to exclude the traditional Finn Class from the Olympic Games and introduce mixed gender events.

The ethical case concerned nine individual complaints, including accusations of failing to safeguard the dignity of Olympic sailors weighing more than 85 kilos and sailors whose religious beliefs prevent them from sailing in a mixed gender event overnight, rigging of the voting process, concealing benefits from manufacturers and other sponsors of equipment and events related to a mixed gender offshore keel boat event, squandering Olympic funds from the IOC on new London headquarters, and attempting to create a glitzy new sport with primary emphasis on technology and increased spectator related revenues while failing to celebrate the athleticism and skills of the sport of sailing and ignoring Olympic tradition.

On 3 December 2019, World Sailing’s appointed Ethics Officer Craig Harris decided to take no further action in the case against Andersen and Hunt based on the conclusion that they did not breach any provisions of the World Sailing Code of Ethics in any of the nine individual cases. 

In the specific complaint of alleged rigging of the voting process at World Sailing’s Annual General Meeting in 2018, the Ethics Officer noted that each relevant stage of the process that was undertaken had been approved in accordance with all requisite World Sailing procedures.

Furthermore, the Ethics Officer concluded that those who raised concerns at the Annual General Meeting did have them recorded, responded to, and independently investigated twice with the result that there was no basis to change the voting records, that all such issues were made known to all concerned in the World Sailing Board and Council, and that the constitutional bodies of the organisation subsequently voted to approve the minutes and the voting records.

Case 2: Decision null and void

The second case against Andersen was caused by a letter he sent on 2 March 2020 to Tom Ehman, the Editor in Chief of ‘Sailing Illustrated’. In the letter bearing electronic signatures of World Sailing’s two vice presidents, Gary Jobson of the US and Scott Perry of Uruguay, Andersen complained that the show on Ehman’s Facebook channel on 18 February 2020 contained misleading and inaccurate information regarding World Sailing.

Furthermore, Andersen’s letter alleged that Ehman had specifically mentioned Jobson and Perry as the source of the misleading and inaccurate information. Andersen’s allegation was incorrect and ultimately caused Jobson and Perry to complain that their electronic signatures had been added to Andersen’s letter without their approval. According to Andersen, he believed the two vice presidents had approved their electronic signatures, as he received a letter from Perry with track changes without any comments.     

On 22 April 2020, the two vice presidents decided to submit a complaint against Andersen to the World Sailing Ethics Commission which at that time consisted of seven members, including Dieter Neupert and Ser Miang Ng. The Ethics Commission appointed World Sailing Council member Joseph Pla of Andorra as the Ethics Officer in charge of investigating the complaint.

Three months later, Pla concluded his investigation and issued a warning to Andersen on 31 July 2020. Even though Andersen in May 2020 objected to the appointment of Pla as the Ethics Officer on the basis that Pla was not independent or impartial, and that both Neupert and Miang had a clear conflict of interests in the case, the warning to Andersen was upheld twice by the Ethics Commision on 18 August 2020 and on 8 October 2020 on the eve of the presidential election.

The reason for Andersen to object to the appointment of Pla was that Pla in March 2019 had sent a strongly worded letter to Andersen complaining about what he considered to be a growing concern about the course World Sailing was taking in its relationship with its members.

Andersen also argued that both Pla and Miang openly supported Gerardo Seeliger of Spain, a rival candidate to Andersen in the presidential election. A witness statement noted that Pla and Miang in January 2020 met Seeliger at an IOC meeting in Lausanne to discuss how they could support Seelinger’s efforts to become the next president of World Sailing.

Furthermore, Andersen argued that the Ethics Commission’s decision in the case was not valid because the appointment of Pla as the investigating Ethics Officer in the case resulted in the resignation of three members of commission, Nicolas Henard, Jo Keen, and Ulfur Hrobjartson, meaning that the commission at the time did not have seven members as required by World Sailing rules.

After the presidential election in November 2020, several other members of the Ethics Commission, including Miang, decided to resign. And because of the controversy, the World Sailing Board in December 2020 decided to remove all the remaining members of the Ethics Commission, replace them with 11 new members, and appoint an Independent Appeal Panel to decide in Andersen’s case.

On 30 April 2021, the Independent Appeal Panel concluded that the former Ethics Commission’s decision in the case was not valid because there was a real possibility that Neupert and Miang were biased in their considerations of Andersen’s objections to the appointment of Pla as the Ethics Officer in the case.

The Independent Appeal Panel also noted that by taking part in the Ethics Commission meeting on 8 October and voting on the decision to uphold Andersen’s warning, Neupert and Miang invalidated the decision and rendered it null and void.

In its conclusion, the Independent Appeal Panel argued that Andersen’s complaint against Neupert and Miang stemming from the appointment of Pla as the Ethics Officer in the case could not simply be dismissed without further detailed investigation of the complaint. According to the Panel, both Neupert and Miang should have recused themselves from taking any part in the meeting leading to the decision to uphold the warning against Andersen.

The Independent Appeal Panel decided to set aside Andersen’s warning and sent the matter back to the Ethics Commission to start again. But before that happened Jobson and Perry withdrew their complaint, which ultimately brought the case to an end. 

Case 3: A far cry from establishing any grounds of complaint

The third case against Andersen originate from the complaint made by now former World Sailing Council member Gyorgy Wossala who lost the first case against Andersen. Wossala’s second complaint against Andersen concerned World Sailings contract with TSE Consulting.

In November 2020, Laurence Burger, an Ethics Officer appointed by World Sailing’s former Ethics Commission headed by Dieter Neupert, concluded the first investigation of the complaint. She found that Andersen had in fact breached the World Sailing Code of Ethics, and a recommendation was made that Andersen be charged accordingly. In her closing statement, Burger wrote:

“The Panel can only uphold the charges against Mr. Andersen, who acted in disregard of World Sailing’s interests by entering into and extending an agreement that was not needed and costed a lot of money to World Sailing. The evidence adduced at the hearings, and during the procedure, has shown that TSE was doing first and foremost the work of Mr. Andersen. More importantly, Mr. Andersen has not been upfront about it. He has changed his story when confronted. The testimonies offered at the hearings portrayed a person who was bent on having things done his way, even if that meant circumventing the Board and the Council. This shows a lack of loyalty towards the interests of World Sailing that amounts to a conflict of interest.”

But in its decision of 19 October 2021, the Independent Appeal Panel that was appointed by World Sailing’s new Ethics Commission concludes that it was not established on any basis that Andersen made himself guilty of a contravention of the Code of Ethics. The Panel states that there was no admissible evidence that TSE was doing the work in terms of the agreement with World Sailing for Andersen.

“The conclusion reached by Ms. Burger is a far cry from establishing any one of the grounds of complaint and/or any of the conceivable contraventions of Section 1.9 (a), (b) and/or (c) of the Code,” the Independent Appeal Panel concludes.

The complaint was brought against Andersen by Wossala on the basis of an article in Norwegian ‘Seilmagasinet’ written by journalist Mikkel Thommessen but the Independent Appeal Panel has placed no, or alternatively, very little weight on the evidence that Thommessen gave as a witness in the case:  

“His evidence amounted to nothing more than inadmissible hearsay evidence. As it transpired, very little of that published in the article by Mr. Thommessen was accurate.”

Similarly, the Panel concludes that Wossala’s evidence was premised on what he had read in Thommessen’s article and discussions which he had with Perry:

“There is no question that the evidence of Mr. Wossala is based on an incoherent assimilation of speculation, assumptions, and half-truths,” the Panel states while noting of Perry who also gave evidence as a witness in the case:

“It is patently obvious that the evidence which Mr. Perry gave was based on a complete misunderstanding of the true facts which presented themselves at the time.” 

In the former Ethics Officer’s closing argument, she stated that hearings had shown that Andersen decided to enter into the TSE agreement without proper approval or even knowledge of the board, that he changed his story regarding his prior contacts with TSE and gave reasons for entering into the TSE agreement that did not even exist at the time, and that he decided to extend the TSE agreement without approval of the Board.

But the Independent Appeal Panel notes that based on the evidence presented to the Panel, there can be no doubt that until the termination of the TSE agreement at the end of 2018, the Board of World Sailing was aware of the agreement and the services which TSE provided to World Sailing.

According to the Panel, communication between Andersen and the Board reveals that there was a full disclosure of the nature of the services rendered and to be rendered by the TSE, and an open discussion about concluding a fresh agreement with TSE during the latter part of 2017.

“As matters turned out, a new agreement was in fact concluded with TSE during November 2017. This was communicated to the Board by Mr. Andersen,” the Panel notes and concludes that the admissible evidence which was received by the Panel does not support the contentions advanced by the former Ethics Officer in the case.

According to the report of the former Ethics Officer, Andersen had a private or personal interest in relation to the conclusion of the TSE agreement that detracted from his ability to perform his function with integrity in an independent and purposeful manner.

“This was not established. As accepted in the report of the Ethics Officer, Mr. Andersen had no financial interest and owed no duty to TSE. There is no witness statement or any other evidence demonstrating that TSE provided services to Andersen that were of a personal benefit to Mr. Andersen outside World Sailing,” the Panel concludes.

“Mr. Andersen did not at any stage during his evidence and whilst being cross examined by Ms. Burger contradict himself. He was forthright in his responses and made a good impression on the Panel.”

Case 4: A clear conflict of interest

Andersen’s case against Dieter Neupert and Ser Miang Ng is dated 25 September 2020 and accuses the two now former members of World Sailing’s Ethics Commission of gross violations of the World Sailing Code of Ethics in relation to the appointment of Joseph Pla as the investigating Ethics Officer in the second case against Andersen.

According to the complaint, Neupert appointed Pla despite a clear conflict of interest, continued to act as chairperson of an improperly constituted Ethics Commission, failed to respect the principle of confidentiality in the cases, and perpetuated a falsehood that Andersen was trying to get rid of the Ethics Commission.

Concerning Miang, Andersen argues that the IOC Vice President in his capacity as a member of World Sailing’s Ethics Commission failed to disclose a clear conflict of interest with respect to the appointment of Pla as the Ethics Officer in the second case against Andersen. The alleged conflict of interest concerns the IOC meeting in Lausanne in January 2020 where Miang and Pla according to a witness statement discussed how they could support Seeliger’s campaign to run for President of World Sailing.

World Sailing’s Ethics Commission is still investigating the case against Neupert and Miang. But in media reports Miang is also accused of interfering in World Sailing’s presidential election.

According to 'Inside the Games', Miang sent an email to the World Sailing Election Committee prior to the election. The email relayed comments attributed to Paquerette Girard Zappelli, the IOC chief ethics and compliance officer. According to the email, Zappelli claimed the Election Committee “should provide a full disclosure of the personal situations” of World Sailings incumbent President Kim Andersen and Vice President Scott Perry prior to election. The email refers directly to the three ethical cases against Andersen and the fact that Perry is banned from entering the US.

Andersen: World Sailing has questions to answer

Based on the Independent Appeal Panel’s dismissal of the TSE case, Andersen now expects World Sailing to answer how Jobson and Perry as vice presidents of World Sailing were able to spread misinformation to the press and create misleading witness statements? And the Dane raises similar questions concerning Wossala, Pla, and Neubert, all leading members of the European sailing federation EUROSAF.

Asked by Play the Game to comment on the new decision in TSE case, Gyorgy Wossala says:

“My position is that Ms. Laurence Burger investigated the matter in detail and thoroughly. I have nothing to add to her work.”

Joseph Pla and Dieter Neupert have no comments. Ser Miang Ng has not responded to Play the Game’s request for his comments to the fact that all ethical complaints brought against the former World Sailing President prior to the presidential election last year have now been dismissed or withdrawn.