Just Do It

Sport can be a powerful lever to change. Sport has a way to cut through and clarify whilst being reflective of times, a barometer if you will, of sentiment, trend and progress. If the definition of bellwether is ‘the leading sheep of a flock with a bell around its neck’ then the next America’s Cup, the most high profile of events in our sport, has to be that ewe on steroids striding before the sport and leading it to a brighter pasture. It must not only lead sailing but take the massive opportunity presented by the sheer power of its platform in the promotion of diversity.

Gary Jobson was on excellent form on Friday on the ‘Chairman’s’ Sailing Illustrated Podcast, covering our sport from just about every angle with an acute eye borne from years of real experience on the water and the commentary booth. The voice that captured the America’s Cup, in my opinion, like no other (although the PJ Montgomery fans would heartily disagree), Jobson was clear in his support when prompted to see more female athletes involved in our Blue Riband event but stopped short of mandating quotas.

That’s still seen as a step too far and I note the concerns that many women have about a precedent such as this. I don’t. I disagree with those women who are against quotas whilst being utterly respectful of their views. I believe they should be absolutely mandated in the Cup in order to propel the sport forward. Don’t leave it to the men to decide because they simply won’t and tokenism will abound. The sport will meander and skirt the issue for generations when it could and should be changed now. Right now. Mandate a 50/50 crew for the 37th America’s Cup. Just do it. Just get on with it.

©America’s Cup Media

This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix – the Blue Riband event of the F1 calendar – was a bit of a yawn. Having fallen asleep after about lap four, I awoke mid-race and decided to look up the Hamilton Commission and the Girls On Track programmes – both supported squarely by the ruling body, the FIA. It’s all breathtakingly bold. Sir Lewis Hamilton using his position and Susie Wolff, an ex F1 driver herself, deciding that enough is enough on both race and diversity respectively and driving the agenda to produce real change in the sport. They will succeed. Female motor sports will produce an F1 driver within the next few years. Diversity will be championed and the pit walls and cockpits will continue to encourage and promote with the pathway clearing for those of diverse backgrounds in terms of race and gender. There are seismic things happening at the pinnacle of motor sports. At the apex of sailing, we’re not even scratching the surface.

But this is something worth fighting for. Fail and the America’s Cup will be a victim of cancel culture. It runs the risk of being crushed by the overwhelming force of public sentiment and I worry that the boys’ club at the top are too timid in their thinking to press the button and propel the sport forward.

This is not the time for those in positions of influence to turn a blind eye or sweep issues under the carpet. It’s not the time to think that you know better and dismiss the juggernaut of the zeitgeist with an air of pomposity. The Cup, like everything else, is on a knife-edge of dwindling relevance and needs to be bold to capture the public and breathe life, relevance, hope and progression into the event. Presenting a non-diverse sport at this juncture is suicide. It won’t cut it in the court of public opinion and it has to change – fast.

The great fear is that in a whirl of venue decisions, cost-cutting measures, protocol procedure and politiking, diversity will be an after-thought on the agenda. That would be the biggest travesty and without the luxury of a role model in the form of Susie Wolff or Sir Lewis Hamilton driving the agenda and gatecrashing the committees, it will be left to fawning middle-aged men in suits and obsequious ‘sports professionals’ who are sitting as well-paid advisers to the money men to come up with the goods. The omens and portents aren’t great.

Who is going to be the person who stands up and calls this out? Who’s going to drive the change? The biggest problem is fear. Those in the hotseats can’t honestly believe their luck and will do anything to maintain their status quo. Speak out and sailing tends to cast you one way. It’s a vicious sport in that respect. “Well we know what he thinks…” is the standard comment uttered in yacht club bars with an I-know-better, we-all-know-better smirk. You don’t. You are the problem. “She doesn’t understand…” is another. And again that’s wrong, uttered by buffoons who should be nowhere near the sport let alone the decision-making. It’s nonsense and we all know it. Pricking sensibilities and getting stuff done is what defines great movements and sailing’s top prize needs a giant wake-up call to wake up the sport as a whole.

Success looks brilliant. The pathway there looks unachievable but surely that’s what makes the challenge so attractive? It can be done. It must be done. And slowly at the lower echelons of grand prix sailing it’s coming. Sail GP mandated female athletes and bingo it happened but it can and should go far further. The IOC mandated gender equality and it happened. And our sport is better, far better, for it. We need to project a pathway to the very top in sailing and signpost it in floodlights. Light needs to be shone into the darkness of the America’s Cup and it’s just not good enough to find a bullet-proof glass ceiling right at the apex of the sport. That’s not right and if it has to be mandated – so be it. As I say, get it done. Get on with it.

Failure is shoddy and second-rate. Flying boats at the technological cutting-edge are all well and good but without female and diverse athletes how can the sport grow? Fabulous efforts have been made for years around sailing to encourage participation. The big movement in my lifetime was the drive to getting more youth on the water and that was an undiluted success that I am forever thankful for. I know who did it. You know who did it. They are giants amongst men. The same impetus needs to happen now on diversity – it’s the fight of our lives and it’s the only fight that sailing should now concern itself with. The America’s Cup has to look at the sport it represents and acknowledge the platform that it has as a force for good not just in sailing but in global sport and in global profile.

Shy away from this fight, sweep it under the carpet and promise to do better ‘next time’ and the Cup community fails miserably. The consequences could be too extreme to imagine. Irrelevance beckons. Read the tea leaves of the time and change. Mandate or wallow like a non-foiling AC 75 in a sea of mediocrity.

The sport won’t thank you. Sport won’t thank you. The Cup will be the loser. Mark my words. Just do it.


6 thoughts on “Just Do It

  1. Greetings Magnus

    Attached is a shot of some of the women from ETNZ, they all play key roles – and as Blake was quick to point out no-one was any more important than anyone else. For the record one of these women put in three years on the cyclors project when she was straight out of university, the other is more recent but is always on the chase boat in the front seat checking the data and sensors – a mechatronics engineer. The others basically run the team – and have been there for many campaigns.

    Looking forward to seeing the Brits leading the way and putting women into the sailing team.

    The Dutch were going to do it with Carolijn Brouwer. There’s a strong incentive in the AC75 rule to use females in the sailing crew, but they need to be up to the standard of Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias in fitness, strength and ability. 

    If you look at the sailing squad – about five or six of them can actually sail – these rest are grinders – and most of those aren’t sailors because generally, speaking the sailors aren’t used to operating at the same levels of fitness and stamina as are rowers and cyclists.

    RG Kind regards Richard Gladwell

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    1. Thanks Richard. It raises the very valid point of re-engineering the boats away from the macho grinding fraternity which I was vocal about needing to change. Not even sailors can understand what they are grinding these days – oil? Pressure? Jeez…that’s akin to hard labour and should not be a deciding factor or handbrake in the drive for gender equality. Batteries can replace a lot of this and then there’s zero excuse on the athleticism argument. And diversity in race? It needs to happen…look at the teams. Where’s the diversity?

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  2. I’m not going to publicly comment for fear of the woke crowd pitchforks or being burned as a heretic.

    Everyone should have an opportunity to compete, but nothing should be given. No quotas, no coercion. Set the criteria physical and experience and let everyone earn there way on to the teams.

    You could have done this differently.

    J

    Sent from my iPhone -James F Bland 865 406 9572. 4612 Finley Dr Austin TX 78731

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  3. It’s pretty sad that we have a movie that’s nearly 30 years old based on events 35 years ago that has the lack of female participation in the America’s Cup as a major plot point and for all that has changed in the event since, its criticisms are still totally valid.

    (Speaking of which, have you ever posted your thoughts on “Wind”? Are you in the camp that really loves it or really hates it?)

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  4. Magnus,

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    End of February, I wrote to the Hon Stuart Nash, Minister for Economic and Regional Development, encouraging continuing governmental support of ETNZ and raising the lack of gender balance in the sailing teams for the America’s Cup.

    His response was very encouraging relative to retaining support to ETNZ, on the condition of the competition being held in New Zealand and to the question of gender equality he replied:
    “I appreciate the concerns you raised regarding the lack of gender diversity within Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) for the recent 36th America’s Cup. Government has no input in the team line-up or the protocol and rules for the 37th America’s Cup, which is set by the ETHZ and the Challenger of Record, INEOS Team UK. Any queries regarding the teams associated with the sailing syndicate should be directed to the appropriate syndicate team or business.”

    He went on further to remind me that the planned Youth America’s Cup, unfortunately cancelled because of New Zealand’s border restrictions, would have been gender neutral.

    This event would have had teams of 2F & 2M, a 50% quota system as you proposed Magnus, proof of principle for any doubters.

    So, the ball is clearly back in the hands of the sailing community and with commentators such as yourself leading the way.

    For INEOS and Team UK, just imagine the resonance, if the team bringing the Cup “Home”, first time ever, decisively included women!

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