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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18: Rule changes 'force' skippers to take women

From BBC - October 13, 2017

Volvo Ocean Race skippers have been "more or less forced" to have women in their crews after rule changes, says veteran sailor Bouwe Bekking.

Organisers of the round-the-world race have brought in new regulations to incentivise crews to select women.

Team Brunel skipper Bekking described his British crew members Annie Lush and Abby Ehler as "fantastic".

"When the rule came out, I said straight away I did not like it," said the 54-year-old Dutchman.

"It's better to be able to choose your own team. The rules have been rewritten in such a way that you are more or less forced to take two women.

"I said we have to take two girls, otherwise you have a disadvantage."

Each of the seven crews taking part in the 2017-18 race - which starts on Saturday in Alicante, Spain - will feature at least one female crew member.

In previous races, an all-male crew could be made up of eight members.

But such teams are now restricted to seven, while mixed crews can be made up of 10 sailors, and female-only teams can feature 11.

"This is giving more opportunity to the very best female sailors in the world to compete on equal terms," Volvo Ocean Race chief executive Mark Turner said last year.

"We are 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."

Rule changes 'pure marketing'

Bekking is preparing to take part in his eighth Volvo Ocean Race and is the most experienced sailor in the event's history.

But this will be the first time he has had women in his crew.

"We have two fantastic ladies on board and we can be really happy with the team we have put together," he said. "Everybody is now just the same."

Ehler and Lush were part of the first all-female crew for 25 years to win a leg of the race when Team SCA won the eighth leg of the 2014-15 event.

And the former has been appointed "boat captain" by Bekking - a role which means she is responsible for all technical aspects of the boat, as well as the safety equipment.

Bekking believes the changes are generally positive as they "get more girls interested in the sport", but says teams were not consulted beforehand.

"We were not asked about the rule changes but you just have to live with their decision and take it on the chin," he said.

"For Volvo, they have to sell cars and trucks. Around half of the world's population is female so if you have more females in the race, they have more attention for their products.

"It's a pure marketing thing. Will it work out? We will see."

Race director Phil Lawrence said: "We are determined to maintain our female presence in the race.

"The proportion of women in sailing is growing all the time, and we think that it's important that as sailing's leading offshore property, that we maintain a representative demographic."

Mixed teams amost normal thing in the world'

What is the Volvo Ocean Race?

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