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Sailing must learn to be gender inclusive

Published on October 28th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world, which was once simply done by inviting all sporting nations to gather for competition. But now the International Olympic Committee has sought to heighten their influence, which includes advancing the position of women in sport.

It’s a righteous initiative, and while I generally prefer organic evolution, men have not always been sufficiently inclusive to their opposite gender. So the Sports in the Olympic Games now must evolve, which has led to growth of mixed events. And not just for Sailing but other sports as well.

Creating opportunity where it once lacked to exist is a positive, however, this top-down movement purposely has significant ramifications along the pathway up the mountain, and this is among the discussions occurring at the 2019 World Sailing Annual Conference in Bermuda.

It is noteworthy that the boats used in the Olympics are that of Class Associations, of which their membership will witness changing formats to include mixed competition, as will a host of youth championships being reconfigured to meet this shift.

The 2019 Pan Am Games, for which the use of the Snipe Class has a long history, dictated it to be a mixed double-handed event. This decision, motivated by the IOC initiative, opened the door for women, particularly in South America where teams in that continent tend to be all male.

This followed the 2016 Olympic Games which included the new Doublehanded Women’s Skiff and Mixed Multihull events. Santiago Lange, a 3-time Snipe World Champion from Argentina, had not a female crew prior to winning gold at Rio 2016 in the Mixed Multihull event.

But it is one thing to open the door, quite another to have people walk through it. It is incumbent for all types of boats and events to address the issue of gender imbalance. And it’s not just about sailors but also coaches and race officials. A young person does not push on in the absence of examples and mentors, so gender inclusiveness requires growth at all levels.

A forum at the Conference – Gender Balance: A Case for Change – shared an overview from a global survey on women in sailing which looked at trends within sailing and the wider industry around gender disparity. Launched by World Sailing Trust, the charitable arm of World Sailing, the findings, to be publicly revealed in November 2019, highlighted the challenge.

But we cannot seek change in the absence of thought. We know how to grow participation with males, and now we must understand how to grow participation with females. As I learned from the instructors at my son’s all-boy high school, males learn differently from females, and instruction is geared for the gender. Sailing must learn to do this too.

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