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How Elitist Is Sailing?

By Sailingguide

Is sailing really only for the wealthy and white? That's an accusation made in a New York Times editorial at the end of the London Olympics sailing events by Bomani Jones, a sports and culture columnist and former ESPN commentator. In the editorial titled "Sailing Is a Sport Apart," Jones opens with "the last thing I want to watch is a sport where the biggest determinant of success is being rich" and goes on to argue "The name of the game is access" and "it's hard to get behind sports that are so obviously exclusive." He also points out "how overwhelmingly white the Olympic [sailing] participants are."

That observation of color is true, but does that demonstrate the sport is "exclusive"? The same day I read Jones' column, I saw in my small-town local newspaper a notice of inexpensive sailing lessons offered at the local yacht club. The cost is low enough to call this a community service rather than a profit-making enterprise - hardly "exclusive." I know also about nearby Boston's great (and relatively cheap) community sailing center. True, to become a competitor at the start of your sport you'd probably want your own sailboat, but small models such as used in the Games can be found used pretty cheap. So if it is true that sailing is a mostly "white sport," where does the fault lie? Is it perhaps due to a wide range of cultural and historical factors rather than being "exclusive" - a term that to me implies some intentionality? No doubt this involves complex issues, but I'd prefer to see suggestions for improvement rather than arguing to remove sailing from the Olympics.

Inexpensive ways to learn to sail


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