July 28, 2021

Diversity sets sail

The final of the new SailGP sailing race will take place on September 22 in Marseille. A mixed competition but which has only one woman among the 30 participants.

The equipment is part of the show. Helmet, bulletproof vest, oxygen cylinder, harness, knife to free yourself in the event of capsizing. To this sea commando gear, we add high-flying catamarans designed with 15-meter foils – long daggerboards – to soar above the water. But also tight turns, peaks whistling at 50 knots (100 km / hour) and splendid bays like those of Sydney, San Francisco, New York, Cowes and Marseille to accommodate the sprints. The poster for this new regatta is very attractive …

On the same subject

Launched and funded to the tune of 50 billion dollars (45 billion euros) by Larry Ellison, billionaire from Silicon Valley, the race intends to impose itself in the world of nautical competition. But what about the women in this wanted mixed league? Among the thirty renowned sailors divided into 6 national teams who will compete in the SailGP final, in Marseille on September 22, the Frenchwoman Marie Riou will be the only sailor at the start.

“The boats are very physical”

This 38-year-old Breton is multi-medalist: champion of France, Europe, quadruple world champion, first woman to win the Volvo Ocean Race in a predominantly male crew, and best sailor of the year 2018. She holds the position of ” flight controller “on the French racing car, which has five navigators. Understand: she maneuvers the foil using a robotic joystick and keeps the craft in flight while the rest of the crew works at the helm and at speed. “The boats are very physical. In all, there are three positions that are very accessible to women, but men are used to sailing between them”, she explains. A male inter-self often denounced in the middle.

The sailor knows that she owes her participation in the race to Billy Besson, selected by the organizers of SailGP to pilot the French team. The two sailors know each other well, they have been sailing in tandem on Olympic waters since the Rio 2016 Games, when the Nacra 17 event became mixed. For the skipper, the lines are moving: “We are constantly inventing new technologies to make life easier on board, because the forces required to maneuver are difficult. This development is suitable for women as well as men.”

Very few women in the big ocean races

The absence of female skippers in major races remains a reality. In 2016, no sailor took the start of the Vendée Globe. Five are expected for the 2020 edition, a record number in the history of the world tour. The situation is similar for the Route du Rhum, which had six women out of the 123 sailors setting off from Saint-Malo, in Brittany, in November 2018.

The hypothesis put forward to justify this lack of parity is twofold. We are talking about very physically demanding boats and the difficulty of finding sponsors, more inclined to finance men’s performance. In the SailGP race, however, the question of funds is not a problem. The billionaire pays everything for three years. Then it’s up to the teams to find their sponsors. But no sailor was chosen among the six coxswain in charge of building up the fleets.

“Your entourage tells you it’s a male world”

“Apart from Caroline Brouwer, there are not so many female coxswains who stand out in sailing”, analysis Tiphaine Turluche, coordinator of the French team at SailGP. The young woman recently joined the management committee of The Magenta Project association, which has been working since 2015 to promote better representation of professional sailors. For her, it is necessary to take the problem at the source, where the work of undermining begins, in particular with the teenagers who launch out in this sport.

“When you are a girl, your family circle and the sailing supervisors tell you that it is a masculine world, that it is going to be hard. A teenager with a little doubt will give up.” The question of imposing quotas to promote diversity arises naturally. The Olympics have done it, the Volvo Ocean Race too, but the idea divides. “Obviously I find this rule very good, it allowed me to clinch a title in this race. But at the same time, it should not exist. To impose, it is hard for us, the women. ? That we are not competent to claim a position as men do? “, asks Marie Riou. At SailGP, we welcome the decision, but we prefer to rely on in-house training to develop the skills of women. Hoping to achieve parity in international competitions.


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