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ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - Female sailors have welcomed a rule change in the Volvo Ocean Race that should ensure mixed teams become the norm while opening the door for more women to take on the challenge.
The event announced this week that for the next edition of the round-the-world race in 2017-18, any team choosing an all-male crew would be limited to just seven sailors.
In a move race organisers said was designed to provide a clearer pathway for women to top-class offshore sailing, other possible crew combinations are seven men plus one or two women, five men and five women, seven women plus one or two men, or 11 women and no men.
Mark Turner, CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, told Reuters the move was necessary to ensure the race did not revert to being an all-male event.
“Sailing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete together and I’m determined to ensure we get the best sailors in the race - both male and female,” Turner said.
“I would love not to have a rule at all, but by doing this we give an incentive to teams to include the best women sailors and build on the momentum created by having an all-female team last time.”
The stage race, which lasts eight months, relies on crew being able to sail at full intensity around the clock for several weeks at a time, meaning having more sailors on board can provide an important advantage.
"This is fantastic news for elite female athletes not just in sailing, but in sport as a whole,” said Britain’s Dee Caffari, who in 2006 was the first woman to sail solo and non-stop the ‘wrong way’ around the world against the prevailing winds. She also competed in the Volvo Ocean Race in the all-female Team SCA in 2014-15.
"I do believe that there are enough female sailors out there who can step up and prove that they can perform, deliver and earn a place onboard,” she added.
Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen, an Olympic gold medallist in 2012, said the move could encourage in-shore specialists like her to make the sometimes daunting step up to professional offshore sailing.
"It's a great opportunity,” she said. “It opens up a very exciting door to me for the future. It’s a personal challenge because I always said that one of my goals was to become a complete sailor.
"The Volvo was always in my head, but I'd lost this dream a little because I knew it was very difficult to achieve. Now I'd love to see if my qualities are valid for this kind of race."
There have been just five all-female teams in 12 previous editions of the Volvo Ocean Race dating back to 1973 and mixed teams have become almost unheard of.
The last time a woman was included on an otherwise male team was in 2005-06, when Australia’s Adrienne Cahalan lost her spot as a navigator after just one leg.
Editing by Toby Davis