SailGP Is Breaking Boundaries For Female Athletes
A highlight during event week of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch was Breaking Boundaries, an evening with SailGP Women’s Pathway athletes.
SailGP partnered with Women Who Sail NZ, Yachting New Zealand and ChristchurchNZ to bring together some of the city’s powerhouse female leaders, as well as young local sailors to hear first-hand experiences from the SailGP athletes.
Like many sports, sailing has faced an issue around inclusion particularly where historical and social disadvantages have prevented women and men from otherwise competing on a level playing field. Breaking Boundaries was a chance to open up this conversation around the challenges women face in high-performance sport and discuss the future of gender equity in sailing.
The panel of athletes included New Zealand’s very own Liv Mackay, alongside Great Britain’s Hannah Mills, Denmark’s Katja Salskov-Iversen and Canada’s Isabella Bertold.
Throughout the discussion the athletes echoed each other’s stories of the challenges they have faced in their careers so far and the ongoing struggles they still find as professional female athletes. It was fascinating to hear the ins and outs of these challenges and delve into topics that are not usually discussed on a public platform.
Liv raised an interesting point that even the boats are designed to better suit male athletes on board. As she explained, this is a fundamental disadvantage for the female athletes, and a change that they are hoping will be considered with the F50 design in future.
One of the most inspiring stories from the night came from Hannah, who recently became a mother and is now travelling the world to compete with her 5-month-old daughter. Hearing one of the world’s greatest sailors share how it is possible to do both, to chase your dreams and have a family, was a heart-warming and encouraging moment.
I feel like we are getting traction and we all have quite a lot of experience now, we know what the boats need and know what's required, and so now it’s a really exciting time in the programme and we can really push forward and create these pathways so that hopefully, you guys in the audience, some of you younger female sailors will have a route straight through.”
While the panel all agreed that there is a long way to go in achieving the level of equity needed in professional sailing, it was clear that SailGP is making all the right moves to close the gender gap.
Hannah shared, “I feel like we are getting traction and we all have quite a lot of experience now, we know what the boats need and know what's required, and so now it’s a really exciting time in the programme and we can really push forward and create these pathways so that hopefully, you guys in the audience, some of you younger female sailors will have a route straight through.”
Liv, Hannah, Katja and Isabella are all part of SailGP’s Women’s Pathway. It was introduced at the start of Season 2 to support the league’s ambition of creating an inclusive sporting championship, inspire change and provide opportunities across all levels of the sport.
The programme aims to fast-track training and development for women so they can gain the valuable experience needed to race the high-flying F50s.
The Spain Sail Grand Prix in Season 2 was a milestone in SailGP’s Women’s Pathway — marking the first-time women raced on F50s. Since then, a total of 25 female athletes have raced on an F50, building a strong roster of female athletes capable of competing at the highest level of sailing.
Through its Women’s Pathway SailGP has an exciting opportunity to break existing boundaries and change the face of sailing to become an inclusive sport with equity at its heart.
As the athletes shared on the night, it feels like only the beginning of the journey for the Women’s Pathway and as it continues to grow hopefully so will similar programmes in other professional sports.