By Oli Dickson Jefford
Olympic champion Hannah Mills believes sailing plays a key role in increasing gender diversity in sport.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Mills, 34, is the most decorated female sailor in Olympic history and is a Global Purpose Ambassador for SailGP, a sailing league which sees eight teams representing eight different nations compete across the globe.
Mills is currently pregnant and has stepped back from the sport in the meantime but is excited to be heading to Plymouth, where the latest stage of the current SailGP season takes place from July 30-31st.
All SailGP teams feature one woman as part of the crew and though Mills wants to see that number grow, she believes the sport is still ahead of the curve and can prove inspiration.
She said: “Sail GP now, we have one female on each boat. There’s six people now on each boat and we’re looking to build on that over the next couple of seasons to get more females and have a truly mixed gender boat.
“I think sailing is uniquely placed for that in terms as a sport. Some of the roles there’s a real physical element to it, but for many of them it’s not and females can be just as good as guys, if not better, in some of the roles.
“The opportunity for the sport is huge, and I see some of the Olympic sports that have gone mixed just how much more engaging it is for families. Women, girls, boys, men, everyone looks at someone in that team and goes: ‘that’s cool - that could be me.’
“That’s crucial, I think, to provide that inspiration. It’s an exciting part of SailGP and I think the more mixed sports we can have, the more it helps to close that gender gap and hopefully that knock-on effect to businesses and young girls and boys watching can be massive.”
Another part of SailGP the 34-year-old is keen to champion is efforts to address sustainability and raise awareness of the climate crisis.
Mills recently revealed that she debated ‘long and hard’ about the environmental impact of starting a family and believes the partnership between ‘Protect Our Future’ and the British team will raise further awareness.
She added: “Research showed that 50% of young people felt that they didn’t have access to reliable climate education, and seven out of ten teachers didn’t know how to teach the issues. It felt like a huge challenge we needed to try and overcome.
“A lot of people say to me that the next generation, they’re not going to be the decision makers, it’s going to be too late by the time they’re in power.
“I just think of all the people, the business leaders who have said to me that the reason they now care is because their kids came back from school that have learnt something about sustainability, about climate change and wanted them to do their bit.
“These people are going to be voting, and they’re going to be voting for who decides the policies in the next few years. It’s important to engage young people. They’re going to be the innovators of the future.”