Arguing gender attributes in court

Published on August 6th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
It’s popular to say how sailing is a gender neutral sport. Sure, some boats require different sized people for particular jobs, but steering tends not to be one of them. However, the argument goes sideways when male skippers tend to always top the rank.

I cheer for the exceptions, such as when Cordelia Burn and Sarah Moeder dominated the 2019 Club 420 US National Championship with seven firsts and one second. But history shows how gender-based events have been needed to provide greater opportunity for women.

And maybe that’s what it is, how girls and women have not had the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Or maybe it’s a numbers game, as there are generally more males than females competing, so the odds favor the majority. I don’t know but the results don’t back up the neutrality argument.

It was an interesting test when the Mixed Multihull event was launched for the Rio 2016 Olympics. There had never been such an event, and as it was a newly created boat, the consensus was for the woman to steer and the man to take on the more physical role of crewing. However, the opposite has occurred, with more men proving to have greater ability in the helming role.

The next test will be the Mixed Two Person Dinghy event for Paris 2024 Olympics. The well-aged 470 boat is the chosen equipment, and with greater familiarity and a larger pool of skilled women, there could be a greater opportunity for this mixed event to be truly mixed.

So it stands to argue that to increase participation and performance, females need greater opportunity, but when one female sought to compete against men, she got snared by the gender rules which prompted a lingering sex discrimination case in Australia.

A federal court judge recently dismissed Stephanie Coady’s claim she was discriminated against when Yachting Victoria disqualified her and father Paul Coady for breaching competition gender rules in 2014. Ms Coady was 16 when her father entered her to sail with him at the ISAF Sailing World Cup, held at Sandringham, Australia.

The deciding argument for the judge, according to the Herald Sun, was the differences in ability between men and women.

Ms Coady argued her role during the race was that of the helm, which did not require as much strength as the role of her crew member. However, an expert witness countered by stating how the traits were “crucial” to competitive sailing.

Judge Patrizia Mercuri agreed, dismissing Ms Coady’s claim to put an end to the three-year legal battle.

“I accept (those attributes) are relevant to elite competition sailing, including the role of the helm,” she said. “Consequently, it was not unlawful for the respondent or others associated with the 2014 regatta to raise this with the applicant, to initiate the protest hearing and then to reach the conclusions it did arising from the applicant’s failure to comply with the gender rules.”

Sometimes by creating opportunities we close doors. Onward!

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