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If not now, then when – Balancing the Boat forum

by Daniel Smith, World Sailing on 7 Nov 6 November 2017
Balancing The Boat Forum Panel © World Sailing / Daniel Smith

"If change is not delivered now, then when will it happen?" This was just one of the messages delivered at Balancing the Boat: growing female participation and developing pathways in competitive sailing, the first of two open forums at World Sailing's 2017 Annual Conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

On the current leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, every boat has a female sailor on the boat and at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games there will be a 50/50 split of male and female sailors. However, the consensus amongst the leading influencers speaking at Balancing the Boat was that more work can be and needs to be done.

Hosted by sailing broadcaster, Alec Wilkinson, Balancing the Boat strived to seek solutions and set long term targets for positive change to be brought about.

With equality in sport and sailing a leading topic of conversation in the community at the moment, the forum was well attended with committee members and delegates joining the debate. In addition, the conference was streamed online and those watching at home were able to engage in the conversation using #UnitingTheSport on social media.

Unable to join the speakers in attendance, Emma Westmacott, a sailor of more than 30-years' experience with four round the world campaigns under her belt, delivered a strong message via video link.

"The future of the sport really is at risk without attracting everybody," she expressed. "The world at the moment is recognising the needs for gender equality. The world at the moment is recognising the need for diversity and equality throughout, for all minorities.

"We need to change the willingness, we need to change the perception of what a female sailor means and looks like and how useful they are on a boat.

"We need to close the gap of the experience levels between men and women and we need to get the genders to be closer together and shut down the feeling of discrimination on either side. World Sailing needs to set an example. We need more women in the sport for the longevity of the sport. We need more women in management roles and we need more female athletes."

Libby Greenhalgh competed on the last Volvo Ocean Race on-board Team SCA. She now acts as Director of Operations at the Magenta Project. Greenhalgh explained the importance of creating a clear message, getting everyone behind it and using it globally at all levels.

"There are four key discussion points," explained Greenhalgh, "from rules and incentives, to building a network, initiatives and just raising the visibility of female sailors so people can be inspired by what women are already achieving.

"But also, we can look to see what are our outcome goals and what will success look like."

Greenhalgh concluded by outlining the Magenta Project's three-year outcome goals. These included having two female led race teams in the Volvo Ocean Race and World Match Racing Tour, having a woman on every Youth America's Cup team and increasing participation at mass participation, national race weeks.

New Zealand's Jo Aleh had targeted following in Greenhalgh's footsteps by racing in the 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. Aleh, a two-time Olympic medallist and 2013 Rolex World Sailor of the Year, explained the struggles she went through in obtaining a place on a team.

"I was sailing with a bunch of guys. A few young ones, a lot less experience in big boats and a lot less experience in offshore but I was at the bottom of the pile," Aleh explained. "I couldn't speak up on things I was annoyed with. I learnt a lot but it was some of the most frustrating sailing I'd ever done."

Even though her success in sailing was significant, Aleh was not selected to sail on a team, "What I had to offer the boat, which was in my head, just wasn't listened to. I'm just a female Olympic sailor, what do I know? And I guess that's fair enough, offshore wise but I just wish a male Olympic sailor who has the same experience way was treated in the same way."

Greek sailor, Sofia Bekatorou, a two-time Olympic medallist and two-time Rolex World Sailor of the Year gave the audience an insight into her career in sailing. Finally, to give a perspective from another sport, Joe Jacobi (USA), former CEO of USA Canoe/Kayak shared his experience of creating a high-performance system in Oklahoma and the benefits it had on the community at large.

World Sailing Chief Executive Officer Andy Hunt joined the panel for a question and answer session, which concluded the session.

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