Peter Burling won the 2017 Rolex World Sailor of the Year,

How Best to Recognize Achievement

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
When New Zealand’s Peter Burling won the 2017 Rolex World Sailor of the Year, it was on the basis of being helm of the winning America’s Cup team, and while his contribution to the team was significant, calls for there needing to be a team award followed.

“Congrats @peteburling for winning the @worldsailing sailor of the year award but surely it should go to @EmiratesTeamNZ,” tweeted Ian Walker, Olympic medalist and winning Volvo Ocean Race skipper. “Time this changed.” Walker was not alone.

Notably, Olympic teammates are frequently recognized, but the precedent is well set for America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race leaders to stand alone: Russell Coutts, Mike Sanderson, Ed Baird, Torben Grael, and James Spithill.

The award is not perfect. Having been involved in selection committees, I have seen how bias factors in. Critical knowledge is a challenge when judging diverse achievements. Would additional awards lead to unintended consequences? How many Rolexes do you hand out?

Back in New Zealand, they are addressing this situation as the country prepares to select the recipients of the Halberg Awards which annually recognize New Zealand’s top sporting achievements.

Yachting New Zealand was set to nominate Burling for the Sportsman of the Year gong, but Team New Zealand turned down the approach, preferring to only accept TNZ’s nomination for the Team of the Year award.

Team New Zealand COO Kevin Shoebridge has confirmed that the America’s Cup winning team does not want Burling to be elevated above the team.

“The America’s Cup was a team effort, that included 90 different individuals, some who you’ll never hear of, but a lot of them are very skilled and were key to the success of that campaign,” Shoebridge told Radio Sport.

“We were informed by Yachting New Zealand that they wanted to nominate the team, and we figured that if there was any recognition, that’s the way we’d like to receive it.”

Shoebridge highlighted the nomination of Burling and Blair Tuke for the Team of the Year award in 2016, which the pair won due to their gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games, as a similar scenario to what they faced this year.

“In our mind, it’s like looking back to last year. You wouldn’t have thought ever about splitting them up and nominating one over the other, and we see it as no different for this. Pete would be the first one to agree with us, Pete is all about team as well, as we are.”

The 2017 Halberg Awards nominees are due to be released this week, with Team New Zealand one of the favorites for the Team of the Year honor.