Volvo Ocean Race for 2017-2018 to Feature Gender Integrated Teams (w. Video)

The 2017-18 rules for the Volvo Ocean Race will contain a distinction that few other professional sports currently have. Gender integrated sailing teams will not only be allowed— they will be incentified.

The Volvo Ocean Race is often referred to as the longest and toughest sporting event in the world. New gender inclusive rules for 2017-2018 will build on the legacy of the thousands of sailors who have taken part over the years. During the last running of the event, an all-female crew had 11 members to the males’ eight.

Here are the crew configurations which will be permitted for 2017-2018:

7 all-male;
7 male + 1 or 2 female;
5 male + 5 female;
7 female + 1 or 2 male;
11 all-female.

Volvo Ocean Race

Ian Walker, Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 winning skipper and Olympic silver medalist, commented: “It would be very hard to compete with only seven people on a Volvo Ocean 65 against teams of eight or nine. This new rule will almost certainly force teams to hire women.”

The race is conducted across four oceans, is adjacent to six continents, has finish lines at twelve host cities, and totals about 46,000 nautical miles. The Volvo Ocean Race round-the-clock series is considered one of the top three global sailing events, alongside the Olympics and America’s Cup.

The All-Female Team in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race

During the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race season, Team SCA, with its all-female crew, finished third in the In-Port Race series and became the first all-female team to win an offshore leg in 25 years. Team SCA was also the first all-female crew to enter the race in more than a decade. Their offshore leg performance did suffer from the crew’s inability to draw upon the experience of sailors who had raced in previous years. Walker noted that the new gender integration rule would “create a great platform for learning.”

Mark Turner, Volvo Ocean Race CEO, explained the decision behind the rule change to foster gender integrated teams.

“This is giving more opportunity to the very best female sailors in the world to compete on equal terms. The Team SCA project in the last race did a great job to restart female participation, after 12 years with just one sailor getting a slot [Adrienne Cahalan, Brasil 1, Leg 1 2005-06]. We’re determined to build on that momentum, and we want to guarantee that the Volvo Ocean Race continues to have the very best sailors competing in the race – both male and female.We’re using the crew rules to incentivise skippers to bring one or more female sailors onboard. I really hope that it’s not necessary to have any rule at all in the future – but it seems it’s the only way today to ensure we can maintain progress.”

Competition for the teams in the Volvo Ocean Race is fierce, as, in the era of One Design racing, the only way to win is by anticipating conditions, navigating keenly, and sailing just a bit harder and smarter than the competitors. And there is no cash prize for victory: the reward comes in seeing one’s name etched into the silver rings of the Volvo Ocean Race Trophy. There’s also the pride and acclaim of achieving what few others have even dared. Indeed, this year’s race will traverse three times as much Southern Ocean sailing as in recent editions, making offshore leg victories all that much more sweet.

Volvo Ocean Race
Source: Volvo Ocean Race

As has been permitted in the past, teams can change their crew combinations leg to leg, but team rosters must be identical during the In-Port Race and the subsequent offshore leg. The only exception will be a team that has only male crew members offshore may add an additional female for the In-Port Race.

Sailing: From Ancient Transportation to Social Constructions of Sport and Gender

In ancient Egypt, while navigation on the Nile was quite safe, transportation and shipping on the open sea was quite dangerous. Sailors on the subdued Mediterranean kept close to the shoreline, sailing by day and landing before nightfall. Later, sea navigation meant crossing the Mediterranean to Crete, Greece, and Italy. Ancient ships could not sail into the wind, so sailors sought southerly routes closer to Africa than Europe. No journey was certain in the fragile ships of the time.

What had been commerce turned to sport, and the world governing body for the sport of sailing was created in Paris in October 1907. It was initially called the International Yacht Racing Union. Over the years, many sailors have claimed the joy of sailing victories. Today, the Volvo Ocean 65 one-design high-performance race boats are designed and equipped with the latest communications and safety technology. The series celebrates its 44th anniversary this year and does have a history of female sailors, with over 100 females having competed since its inception.

Of course, that number is compared with over 2000 male sailors who have participated. The 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race rule changes are sure to elevate the number of participating female sailors.

Why the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race Rule Changes are So Important

“This is fantastic news for elite female athletes not just in sailing, but in sport as a whole,” said Dee Caffari MBE, who raced onboard Team SCA in 2014-15 and, in 2006, became the first female to sail solo and non-stop in what’s considered reverse direction around the world. “It was important to make a big impact with an all-female team last edition in order to change the perception of women in sailing, and we showed that we could compete on the same boats, in the same conditions.” She added: “I’m excited to see the concept of mixed teams evolve. I do believe that there are enough female sailors out there who can step up and prove that they can perform, deliver, and earn a place onboard.”

That “perception of women in sailing” to which Caffari refers has Victorian moral codes as its origin. Victorians saw the world and sex in binary terms. Women were depicted as being morally strong but physically weak, and the century that followed imbued women’s bodies with what McDonagh and Pappano in Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports call “highly charged cultural symbols” (164). Early on, many males were concerned that female athletic accomplishments might upstage the existing gender order. Since then, various political and educational institutions have wrestled with sex segregation and difference in sport.

Sex-integrated sports policies like those recently instituted by the Volvo Ocean Race series promote female involvement in a traditionally male sport with significant benefits to both genders as well as society as a whole.

Athletic participation is linked to social, business, and political capital. In a cultural climate that privileges male athletic events as more worthy of media coverage and attention, it takes strong and determined female athletes to challenge the traditional social order. As McDonagh and Pappano note, “When it comes to sports, too many people accept the belief that men are supposed to be better, be paid more, valued more, given better tools, attention and facilities” (257).

The gender integrated rule change in the Volvo Ocean Race series for 2017-2018 is the first step toward accepting a new, gender-neutral view of sports. Increased opportunities for female sailors here at the highest professional level may have an exponential effect in which opportunities for gender integrated sports at every level may increase. In the future, gender-blind sports rules may dissuade the media from a male sport focus and, instead, lead to sports financial parity of the genders.

Yes, there are physical biological differences between the sexes, but today’s era of conditioning and nutrition has narrowed previous definitions of female athletic capacity. The Volvo Ocean Race, using its high profile, is moving western society one step closer to the possibility of female integration in all kinds of sports.

If you’d like to view the Volvo Ocean Race this year and view the gender integrated teams from the comfort of your living room, you can do so on on YouTube, which features live racing when satellite feeds can reach the yachts and taped footage from Onboard Reporters embedded with every team.

Source: Volvo Ocean Race

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+