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The Ocean Race Aims for Equal Number of Male and Female Sailors by 2030

26th May 2022
On board the all female-crewed Team SCA, which competed in the 2014-15 edition of The Ocean Race
On board the all female-crewed Team SCA, which competed in the 2014-15 edition of The Ocean Race Credit: Rick Tomlinson/Team SCA/Volvo AB

The Ocean Race is aiming for a 50/50 split of women and men competing in the round-the-world sailing fleet within the next three editions of the race.

The ambitious target is part of Horizon, a new collaboration with The Magenta Project, World Sailing Trust and PA Consulting that is dedicated to increasing the number of women in professional sailing.

And the group is calling on the sailing, marine and sports industries to join them in helping to accelerate accessibility for women. According to the World Sailing Trust, nearly 60% of women in sailing have faced gender discrimination.

Horizon aims for an equal number of men and women competing across The Ocean Race — whether this is achieved through mixed crews or all-female teams.

The initiative — which encompasses roles across the sport, including sailors, boat builders, coaches, umpires and race officials - is launching following in-depth analysis of the state of gender equality in professional sailing by PA Consulting.

Following interviews with key stakeholders in the industry, the consultancy identified major barriers, bias and systemic issues that limit female participation in the sport.

Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world in both directions, two-time competitor of The Ocean Race and chair of the World Sailing Trust, said: “We all naturally trust the people we are used to sailing with, so it is difficult to break into a team. The wind and waves don’t care who you are, male or female, you’re a sailor.”

The insights echo the World Sailing Trust’s 2019 Strategic Review into Women in Sailing (PDF), which revealed that 80% of women and 56% of men think that gender equality is an issue in sailing, with 59% of women, compared with 14% of men, saying they had experienced gender discrimination.

Working together, The Ocean Race, The Magenta Project, PA Consulting and World Sailing Trust say they aim to change perception and improve routes into the industry for women.

The Ocean Race will create a roadmap for action which will feature new and existing initiatives that will be supported by the collaborators. The actions will include recommendations from the World Sailing Trust Strategic Review, such as:

  • A fast-track leadership programme to create a pipeline of female leaders across the sport
  • equality design working group made up of boat designers, manufacturers, technical specialists and female sailors
  • a diversity and inclusion working group, led by World Sailing Trust

The Ocean Race will also provide shadowing opportunities across race management, with volunteers from local clubs in every host city that the race stops at, and, with The Magenta Project, will develop a women and youth mentoring programme specific to The Ocean Race.

Viva Mexico in The Ocean Race Europe in 2021 | Credit: Jen Edney/Viva Mexico/The Ocean RaceViva Mexico in The Ocean Race Europe in 2021 | Credit: Jen Edney/Viva Mexico/The Ocean Race

PA Consulting will create an equality assessment tool to help the sailing industry measure where they are now and where they can improve, along with a series of roundtables that will follow progress across the industry.

All stakeholders will also sign the UN Women, Sport for Generation Equality Charter, a powerful multi-sport stakeholder coalition to drive gender equality through sport.

Anne-Cécile Turner, sustainability director at The Ocean Race said: “Female competitors in The Ocean Race include Olympic gold medallists and world-record breakers. They are powerful role models and ambassadors, but for many, their journey to the top has been fraught with challenges, simply because they are female.

“Not only are women missing out on opportunities, the profession is also missing out on the skills, strength and talent that they bring to the table. Sailing can secure its reputation, and its future, by coming together as an industry. We need to build bridges, not work in silos.”

The Ocean Race has seen 136 women competing since 1973, including 12 in the first edition. In the 2017-18 edition of the race, new rules were introduced that gave teams a major incentive to include women as well as men — a policy that will continue in the 2022-23 race and will see women participate with a meaningful role on every team.

“The research that the World Sailing Trust conducted in 2019, showed some pretty stark figures on the state of gender equality in sailing,” Caffari said. “The PA Consulting research has since confirmed that while there is some progress, the sport needs to work much harder and more collaboratively, if we are to bring about change. It will take leading events in our sport, such as The Ocean Race, to continue to turn the equality dial.

“The Horizon initiative is exactly how we need to be working, so that as a sport, we can collaborate better and address these key issues, and start levelling the playing field. Aiming to increase opportunities and participation levels for female athletes.”

Jonquil Hackenberg, chair of The Magenta Project, a charity dedicated to gender parity and diversity in competitive sailing, and head of sustainability at PA Consulting said: “Sailing is one of the least diverse sports and this needs to change. This collaboration is a vital step towards that and has the potential to alter the face of sailing forever and make it a sport that others can turn to and learn from.

“The power of this collaboration is that it brings strengths to the fore, where strengths do not need to be physical. With a tangible set of recommendations and a collaboration whereby we at The Magenta Project can bring actionable pathways for aspiring ocean racers, the initiatives focus on the entire ecosystem of the sport, which is the only way to truly embed meaningful and sustainable change.”

IMOCA, one of the two yacht classes that will race in the next edition of The Ocean Race alongside the VO65 class, expressed its support for Horizon. IMOCA president Antoine Mermod said: “While we are seeing more females in sailing, there is still a way to go to make the sport truly equal for women and men. We would particularly welcome more females becoming skippers and taking on other leading roles in the industry, so we’re delighted to see a collaboration that focuses on making the sport more accessible to women.

“The Ocean Race has been a pioneer in this space; we’re looking forward to supporting their ambition to make the event equal.”

Helping to create pathways for women in sailing is the first step in The Ocean Race’s diversity and inclusion programme, which aims to make the event, and industry, more accessible to all.

Diversity and inclusion is part of The Ocean Race’s Racing with Purpose sustainability programme, which was created with 11th Hour Racing, a premier partner of The Ocean Race, and is dedicated to improving the health of the ocean.

Published in Volvo Ocean Race
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