The drive for diversity
In recent years The Ocean Race has made solid steps towards greater inclusion and diversity of participants in the competition.
The Ocean Race's work towards greater inclusion and diversity is not just with respect to the sailors, but across all aspects of the organisation on shore. However, the work is far from complete. It’s an ongoing project, a mission passionately shared by a number of key partners.
For this edition logistics partner GAC Pindar, together with The Magenta Project, World Sailing Trust and The Ocean Race, has been organising and hosting a series of panel discussions and networking events taking place throughout this edition of The Ocean Race. Jeremy Troughton, General Manager of GAC Pindar, explained the reasons why: “As a marine leisure, sports and event logistics provider and a charter member of Maritime UK's Diversity in Maritime group, it is our duty to champion crucial diversity and inclusion discussions across the sport of sailing.”
The meeting in Cape Town brought together a number of thought leaders and inspiring individuals who have contributed to achieving greater inclusivity and diversity. Among the attendees who came to listen and to participate, were students from the Lawhill Maritime Centre in Cape Town who had the chance to meet with the sailing teams and other race stakeholders.
Andrew Pindar, founding partner of GAC Pindar, has been promoting greater female participation in sailing for more than 20 years. There’s still much work to be done, he says. “If you look across the history of this race, which is now 50 years old, since 1973 there have been 2853 sailors taking part. Of those 2853, only 173 have been female. That’s about 6%. So that doesn't look to be very balanced and very equal in my eyes.”
However, the participation of an all-female crew in the 2014/15 edition of the race has since led to a small revolution in greater female representation. Out of Team SCA a new organisation, the Magenta Project, was formed with the aim of pushing for greater female involvement at the top of the sport.
Team SCA’s former skipper, Sam Davies, is this time competing on Biotherm as part of Paul Meilhat’s crew. The British professional is also a three-time veteran of the Vendée Globe, the solo round-the-world race in IMOCA boats. At the meeting in Cape Town, Davies commented on the recent controversial decision by long-term sailing sponsor Banque Populaire to bring an end to its support for Clarisse Cremer. With Cremer taking time away from IMOCA racing while on maternity leave, the French bank’s decision to drop her from the Vendée programme has been widely criticised across the sailing world and in the broader French media.
RULES THAT NEED REWRITING
“It’s a complicated subject,” said Davies, “it's a real shame what happened in France recently and and I think there's lots of different opinions on the subject. But the most important thing is that it showed up a bit of an error in the way we made our [IMOCA class] rules and our qualifying rules and selection rules. We had left out, or forgotten, that if you do have maternity leave, you're not going to be able to get all the miles you need to get selected [to take part in the Vendée Globe].
“IMOCA is a skipper-run class and we make our rules and vote them and work with the race organisers for these rules. So we're all responsible for this kind of issue. Which is why we're working hard to correct it. And I think there's lots of ways that that can be changed.
“I’m a mother and I actually did the Vendée when my son was just a year old. If each skipper has to have a reserve skipper signed up straightaway, I would have felt a whole lot more comfortable presenting my project [to a potential sponsor] when the reserve skipper is already with me. And then that would reassure the sponsors that is always a reserve skipper ready to step in.”
STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE
Another reason, perhaps the biggest, why women have struggled to gain a foothold in professional offshore racing is because of the physical differences. There has been a widespread perception that women are not strong enough for the job. Davies disagrees, and has the sailing CV to prove it. “The longer the race and the smaller the crew number, I think the less difference it makes whether you're a male or a female sailor. And I think the more the race becomes a question of endurance and keeping it in one piece and keeping the team in one piece and looking after each other, looking after your boat - all those skills are more important than pure physical strength. More important is your ability to survive the discomfort.
“I think the fact that now we're sailing with a small crew, shorthanded almost, that's reduced the difference between men and women. I'm pretty sure that before the end of the race, we'll see some teams with more than just one woman on board.”
Another British sailor competing in the race is Annie Lush, part of the crew on board Benjamin Dutreux’s Guyot Environnement - Team Europe. A two-time veteran of The Ocean Race, Lush believes her life as a young mother also equips her with useful skills for the rigours of life at sea. “You're really good at a lack of sleep,” she laughs, “you're pretty good at multitasking and you're pretty good at watching out for people trying to kill themselves!
“There's no lack of women in technical roles who are capable of doing many different roles on the boat. It's just having the opportunity to do it.”
Talking of technical roles, Bill O’Hara, the principal race officer for The Ocean Race, says there has been a big push to bring gender balance to the race officials for this and future editions of the race. “On the jury, our panel of rules experts, we have a roster of 10 people, five men and five women,” says O’Hara. “All of them are absolutely world class, and there’s no way that we were going to pick anybody who wasn’t good enough, just to hit a target. You get the job because you’re good at your job.”
O’Hara says the push towards gender balance is the right aim for the sport. “Traditionally, sailing would have a hard time defending itself against the idea of being ‘pale, male, and stale’, so it’s right The Ocean Race is working with other parts of the sport to bring more women on to the race management side.”
O’Hara cites the example of Maria Torrijo from Spain who has run the In-Port Race and the race start out of Alicante for the past four editions of The Ocean Race. “In my opinion Maria is the best race officer in the world, bar none, male or female. She is the principal race officer for some of the most professional circuits like the TP52 and RC44s, and she was deputy principal race officer at the Olympics and the America’s Cup. That’s the kind of calibre that we’ve been able to get on board for The Ocean Race.”
Inclusion was one of the other hot topics discussed in Cape Town. Being a young girl from East London in the Eastern Cape, Thina Qutywa said she always been drawn to the sea. Having qualified as a marine engineer Qutywa spent a number of years travelling the world, working in the male-dominated world of cargo shipping. Qutywa then transitioned from being a seafarer to the boating industry in 2020 where she started working for the South African Boatbuilders Export Council, of which she is now the executive manager. “I think for me, the challenges that I've faced is being overlooked and not being taken seriously,” she said at the meeting. “That’s frustrating to me because I've studied just as hard as my fellow male counterparts, and I can do the exact same job, except you're going to think that he can do it better than I can, and chances are that I can do it better.”
The situation can change much more quickly and for the better if encouraged and promoted from the top down, she argued. “We need collaboration from government and from existing companies in the industry. I myself am the product of inclusion because more and more women are becoming part of the boating and boatbuilding industry. But also more and more people of colour are becoming part of the industry. So it's a collaboration we need to work on together to ensure that this happens. We can't do it by ourselves. We need input from everyone to ensure that no one is left behind, and that people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds know exactly what the industry is about and how they can get into it.”
MOVE ANY MOUNTAIN
Lindani Mchunu, a Trustee of World Sailing Trust, is the marine manager at the V&A Waterfront. Previously the sailing academy manager at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, Mchunu has been credited with driving transformation programmes in sailing, through his work on diversity in sailing and the wider marine industry in South Africa. He said that small steps and small changes can lead to giant transformations over time. “We think it's about moving mountains, but it's really about what you can do as a singular human being by connecting someone like me who's been dying to get an opportunity.
“It’s that opportunity for connection, because if you don't have proximity to the circle, to those people, you'll never get in, you'll never win. It's impossible for you to get it because those people, they know each other and we all know that's how that's how it works. When somebody says to you, ‘Hey, I need somebody to do such and such,’ you say, ‘Oh, I know so-and-so.’
So that's really the legacy that I think needs to be talked about. How do we make sure that The Ocean Race and any other race - whether it's the Clipper Race or the Golden Globe which is coming to Cape Town this October - how do we ensure that these races don't just come and go, but they actually leave something behind? Every time a race comes back here, we want them to see how far we’ve progressed [since the last time].”
SPEAKING FOR OTHERS
Mchunu appreciated the opportunity to speak at the event. “There's a reason why I have to be here. I feel that I'm responsible as a black person sitting here. I'm responsible to speak the truth, my truth, because most of these kids will never get the opportunity to be here where I'm sitting, and to be asked these questions.”
It’s meetings like these where vital connections are made, as GAC Pindar’s Jeremy Troughton observed: “We’re delighted we had such great turn-out at the recent event in Cape Town from The Ocean Race family and the local community. Important introductions have been made that we hope will go on to change the lives of some of those who were there.”
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