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Should Sailing Be Gender Specific?

Published on April 11th, 2017

Offshore racing legend Damian Foxall (IRL) speculates about the world his young daughter will experience.

What would the Elvstrom family make of the recent trend to provide specific sailing events and races for female sailors?

Sailing has the privilege of being one the few sports where men and women can compete on a relatively even basis across a wide range of classes, as proven by Mr and Ms Elvstrom racing their Tornado together in the 1984 Olympics.

Ellen MacArthur, another example, was one of the few female sailors to insist on competing on an equal basis rather than leverage her obvious marketability to create a female team, preferring to ‘beat up on’ the guys at their own game, either on her own or as part of a mixed crew.

If Ms. Elvstrom and Ms. McArthur would like to ‘front up’ on the start line to compete against an open field, then the race and class organisers should just fire the start gun and applaud when the girls do well.

I hope my own daughter has such opportunities and mentors when it’s her turn.

Maybe ALL male only events should be OPEN as in 1980 or are the guys too afraid to be beaten by a girl?

See the trend for Olympic Sailing Events
1980: 6 events; all events open to men and women
1984: 7 events; 6 open, 1 men’s
1988: 8 events; 4 open, 3 men’s, 1 women’s
1992: 10 events; 4 open, 3 men’s, 3 women’s
1996: 10 events; 4 open, 3 men’s, 3 women’s
2000: 11 events; 5 open, 3 men’s, 3 women’s
2004: 11 events; 4 open, 3 men’s, 4 women’s
2008: 11 events; 3 open, 4 men’s, 4 women’s
2012: 10 events; 2 open, 4 men’s, 4 women’s
2016: 10 events; no open, 5 men’s, 4 women’s, 1 mixed

Obviously certain classes due to strength requirements and weight demands do make an uneven platform for the male/female to compete, especially as the current trend in Olympic classes has moved towards athletic focussed disciplines.

To highlight a positive example, the creation of the mixed class Nacra 17 class in the last Olympics seems to have been a success, as showcased in such an amazing way by the Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) winning gold after a heart-stopping Medal Race.

However, the current trend across many classes in creating specific female class/event and opportunities is often more artificial than beneficial, often creating differences rather than a level race course.

Under 30’s, Women, African, Australians, Chinese, Over 60’s, 3 legged Martians, and even the French don’t need special treatment in our sport, just the chance to line up on the start line with everyone else and prove their worth.

While the promotion of women’s sailing is fundamental to the health and success of our sport, the notion that getting into sailing as being hard for females is exclusive flag to hang feminism on is wrong.

Getting into sailing is not easy for many people, whether due to financial, demographic, geographic, or family situation, but it is through personal effort, commitment, persistence and a simple lifestyle choice that anyone can get on the water.

The subsequent privilege of competing, at any level, is something then to be earned and not a right to demand. Make ALL events Open. Maintain mixed and female classes only where needed.

As the father of Neave Foxall, age 6, may she stand on to her own two feet, head high and hair blowing in the wind swept spray.

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