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Celebrating Our Sailors : The Power of Recognition and the Need for Change



Mel Parkin - Author.

Recognising significant achievements in sailing is more than just a tradition—it's a vital part of fostering long-term participation, overall enjoyment, and a sense of accomplishment among sailors. Studies consistently show that recognition plays a crucial role in sustaining engagement in sports, and we see this firsthand in our club. The beaming faces of juniors receiving progressive achievement ribbons and the proud smiles of seasoned sailors being honoured for their efforts underscore the impact of these moments.


As a club, we are deeply committed to increasing the participation of women in sailing. Celebrating their achievements is a key aspect of this commitment. We have several exceptional women sailors—some you might know well, others you might not recognise - yet.


Why is that? Let’s delve into it.


Our club prides itself on acknowledging all our sailors. We have trophies, specific class awards, and an honours board to celebrate our stars. It’s a pretty proud moment being listed on our honours board, however, when it comes to how names get on there, is where things get a bit complicated.


Like all sports, sailing is governed by rules to ensure fair competition. Our racing rules, events, and national championships adhere to the International Rules of Sailing and are overseen by Yachting New Zealand (YNZ). To be ‘formally’ recognised as a ‘National Champion’, certain criteria must be met as outlined by YNZ. This includes having a minimum number of races, participants, and specific conditions for classes to be nationally affiliated.


Here's the crux of the issue:


From YNZ Regulation 4.5.4 - Recognition of Winners.

The winner(s) of the events will be recognised as Yachting New Zealand National Champions provided that:

  • The event is a National Championship All conditions of this Regulation 4.5.4 have been complied with

  • A minimum of 7 races shall be scheduled of which a minimum of 5 races are required to be completed to constitute a series.

  • A minimum of six yachts must have started in any one race in the series (with the exception of the following classes: Skud 18, 2.4, Sonar, Hansa 2.3, Hansa Liberty, Hansa 303 – Single Handed, Hansa 303 – Double Handed where 5 yachts must have started in any one race in the series).

  • A Female National Champion shall be recognised in national championships where a minimum of six all- female crewed yachts have started in any one race in the series.


Yachting New Zealand prescribes that the winner, regardless of nationality, shall be recognised as the Yachting New Zealand National Championship.


That last bullet point of the criteria particularly has caught our attention. There’s been a passionate debate about how we, at WBBC, genuinely recognise our women who excel at a national level. While they receive trophies within their class specific Nationals, their names don’t make it to our honours board due to that one bullet point.


Why is all this an issue?


Let's Break It Down

  1. Barrier to Recognition: The requirement for six all-female crewed yachts can be a significant hurdle, particularly in regions with lower female participation. This creates an unnecessary barrier to recognising female athletes, potentially discouraging them from participating and competing.

  2. Impact on Smaller Regattas or Classes: In smaller events or classes, meeting this requirement is often impractical. This rule can exclude many deserving female athletes from being acknowledged as champions simply due to the event size.

  3. Negative Psychological Impact: This rule can be demotivating for female athletes who train and compete at high levels but remain unrecognised due to factors beyond their control, impacting their morale and interest in the sport.

  4. Promotion of Inequality: Enforcing such a rule perpetuates the notion that female achievements are less valid unless they meet stricter criteria, undermining efforts toward gender equality in sports and society.

  5. Historical Context: Many sports, including sailing, have historically seen lower female participation due to social and cultural factors. Imposing such rules without addressing these disparities ignores the broader context and continues the cycle of inequality.


Polly Wright - Yachting Excellence Award for Young Leadership

Moving Forward - time to change


The rule is inherently unfair, setting an unequal standard for female athletes, potentially discouraging participation, and perpetuating gender inequality in our sport. It would be more equitable to recognise champions based on their performance, not the number of competitors.


While changing the national criteria might be challenging, we can take steps within our club to make a difference. We will be updating the criteria for our honours board from this date onwards. It’s a simple wording around what WBBC believes denotes a ‘Champion’. I believe we can agree—it's time to be the change we want to see in our sport.


By making this shift, we can ensure that all our sailors, regardless of gender, are recognised for their hard work and achievements. Let’s honour their efforts and inspire future generations to sail with pride and passion.


MP

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