Words Are Cheap
Published on June 25th, 2018
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Following the inclusion of women in the Volvo Ocean Race, I have seen the comments on social media in how people are eager to see the opportunities continue to open up for women in sailing. I say amen to that, but words are cheap.
What we saw with the Volvo Ocean Race was an artificial opportunity. The inclusion of women in the race was unlikely to occur in the absence of the rule which encouraged it, so it is a question now of whether rules are needed for this to continue, or if the accrued skill obtained by the participating women will have a lasting impact.
We will witness a similar initiative at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where the sailing events will increase the number of women to participate. While the opportunity to compete in the Games had previously existed for women, a quota had limited how many could participate. Some say that quota had been set based on how many women were Olympic caliber, but the upside to this initiative should inspire more to reach further.
Certainly it is hard to increase skill in the absence of opportunity, which makes the optics difficult when women have the power to make these decisions as boat owners, yet choose to select men for their crew. I see it repeatedly occur, often with excellent result. Sailing is that sport which can be gender neutral, particularly at the helm, but more examples are needed in the bulk of the crew too. That needs to increase.
While rules and quotas are helpful for the top of the sport, I see only real growth for women when it develops upward from the grass roots level. That is something we can all contribute to, in all the sailing that occurs from dinghies through keelboats. It is hard to accrue the skill needed at the top when the stairway lacks sufficient steps at the bottom.
Just recently I witnessed what appeared to be a new group of junior sailing instructors getting into the club’s doublehanded boats for a pre-summer scrimmage. Most boats had both a boy and girl, and in all cases the boy was always helming. Hard to make progress with that kind of example.
If there is an interest to see opportunities continue to open up for women in sailing, take a look at your sailing area to see what kind of role models exist for the upcoming generation of young girls. Pushing upward increases the pressure so gender is not a consideration when it comes to participation.