New Zealand short-handed sailor Cory McLennan has today announced the launch of Rainbow Racing – a 10-year project that will champion diversity and inclusiveness in sailing on a global scale.
The Rainbow Racing project will see McLennan compete in high-profile solo and short-handed yacht races around the world over the next decade. The 23-year-old wants to demonstrate that sailing is an accessible sport for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other rainbow communities.
McLennan made history in 2014 when, at 19 years old, he became the youngest person to complete the Solo Trans-Tasman yacht race. After that, he planned to take part in similar local and international races, and ultimately to compete in the Vendee Globe solo round-the-world yacht race.
But McLennan nearly gave up his dreams, and the sport of sailing altogether, because he felt great fear about ‘coming out’ to others in the sailing world.
“I went into hiding. I was scared that someone would find out, scared of what would happen to me. I nearly gave up sailing because I didn’t believe that I would be accepted, and I felt I couldn’t do it and be myself. However, my local club and the people at Yachting New Zealand have been very supportive and I am hoping this will be the case throughout the rest of the competition series.” McLennan said
There is still progress to be made. A 2015 study called Out on the Fields, the first international study on homophobia in sport, found 87 percent of the nearly 9500 participants had witnessed homophobia in sport. New Zealand also had the highest percentage (61 percent) of gay adults choosing to stay in the closet in sport.
All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow admitted last week he had used gay slurs without intent and had now signed up to a campaign for gay awareness in a bid to stop homophobia in New Zealand sport.
McLennan wants to use his experiences to benefit others. “I want to show other people that it doesn’t matter in sport who you are, sport is about what you do. I want to show anyone that in sport you should be judged on your ability, not on your sexuality or gender.”
New Zealand’s major sporting organisations, including Yachting New Zealand, committed to the #sportforeveryone initiative in 2016, to tackle the lack of diversity in sport.
“We believe yachting is an inclusive sport because anyone who wants to get into the sport can,” Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie said. “There are opportunities for everyone.
“Yachting New Zealand and World Sailing are aligned in their strategic direction and one of the aspects of that is inclusivity. We wish Cory well with his campaign and sailing ambitions.”
McLennan already has the backing of Proud to Play NZ, a charitable trust that tackles homophobia in sports. He is now seeking to partner with corporate sponsors who support equality, diversity and inclusion, using sailing as a platform to spread that message to a global audience.
Cory aims to compete in April’s Solo Trans-Tasman Yacht Challenge before tackling the two-handed category of June’s Auckland to Noumea race.
“Solo yacht racing is one of the most physically gruelling and mentally tough sports, and I want people to see that sexuality is no barrier to taking part,” he said. “I want to be the first openly gay person to race around the world in the Vendée Globe.”
“I started Rainbow Racing because I know how scared I was, and still am. It’s not easy to come out – it means putting myself out there and conquering my own fear – but if what I’m doing can help just one person with their fear, it’ll be worth it.”
McLennan aims to sail in competitions ending in Australia, where same-sex marriage is still not legal, and some of the Pacific Islands where homosexuality is illegal. McLennan plans to use this series to spread the message of equality to these countries.