The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the most extreme and prestigious sailing events in existence, and in this year’s race around-the-world, all seven teams will race with a mixed-gender crew for the first time. This is due to a new rule pushed by the race’s chief executive Mark Turner, which requires teams to include at least one woman.
Stacey Jackson, 34, is one of 16 women given an opportunity to compete because of this rule. Jackson, along with half of the women competing in this year’s race, competed last year on the all-female Team SCA where they finished in sixth place. SCA declined to sponsor an entry for this year’s race, which means that the all-female team will not be returning to this year’s event.
Prior to the rule change, Jackson applied to be a boat captain for a sailing team. She assumed that she has surpassed the qualifications needed to secure the job, having just sailed around the world. Her assumptions proved to be wrong.
“I was turned down at the last minute when they realized Stacey Jackson was a female’s name,” she said. “They even said it to me over the phone.”
In August, months after Jackson had given up hope of competing in the race, she received a phone call from Charlie Enright, the skipper of a Volvo Ocean Race team. He was calling to ask her to join his team, Vesta’s 11th Hour.
In becoming a part of the crew, Jackson also became part of the initiative to make women an integral part of the Volvo Ocean Race. Sailing is a sport that is primarily male-dominated, and women have a tough time integrating themselves for many reasons. Since some male sailors are against the idea of having women compete solely because of their gender, enforcing rules was necessary.
“I would prefer not to put rules at all, but it was pretty clear to me what would happen if I did not,” said Mark Turner. “We are a sport where we can have the very best males and females in one team. Not every sport has that option, and we should make the most of it.”
This change is aimed at attracting more female fans, which could inspire more young girls to pursue the sport. However, some people do not feel this way.
“Around half of the world’s population is female, so if you have more females in the race, [sponsors] have more attention for their products. It’s a pure marketing thing,” said Bouwe Bekking, a Dutch sailor in the race.
Perhaps those who feel the same should consider that women now have an opportunity to make a name for themselves and pursue their dreams, rather than just considering the revenue generated by attracting a new female demographic. The new rule is meant to give women an equal opportunity in a sport that so often ignores them, regardless of their qualifications.
“There are females on every boat now, so the winning team will have female sailors,” said Jackson. “I hope that will prove it should be a standard.”
Still, all of the women competing are aware that there are no guarantees going forward. It is up to them to take this opportunity and do with it as much as possible. This is a great step toward gender equality in the sport of sailing, and hopefully more sports and organizations can follow in Volvo Ocean Race’s footsteps.
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