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After the Lilac Hayes' article on a female category in FS competitions in our last issue, Michael Dean sent us his points of view.

Female Category in formation skydiving competitions [Part II]
by Michael Dean -

I'd like to take this opportunity to debate Lilac Hayes's piece in the December/January issue of skyXtreme, regarding a female category in formation skydiving competitions.
I do not agree that there should be an all-female category in skydiving, in any competition. I agree with what seems to have become 'traditional' arguments against a female FS category - that FS skydiving is not as strength-dependent as some sports, such as track and field; that gender should not be a justification for a completely separate competition. However, aside from these, I see others which are often overlooked in this discussion.
Lilac writes that there are about ten all-female FS teams expected to compete at the World Meet in Spain, and that without an all-female category, these forty-plus competitors would be eliminated from the competition. But, to put a different perspective on that, should any team (regardless of gender) be included in a competition for anything other than their performance in the sky? Should a nation send a 4-way or 8-way team to a competition because they are the best their country has in that discipline, or because they are under-represented in the sport? More on that point later.
Lilac goes on to say that women do not have the same accessibility to high-level teams and competitions, and that teams like Airspeed will not choose women regardless of their skill and ability.
To quote:
"World class teams like Airspeed (and other high-level teams in the US) will not choose women for their teams regardless of skill and ability. My chance to grow as a high-level FS competitor does not exist like it did for the male rookies who were recruited for Airspeed this past year. "
This suggests two things.
1) World class teams will only select men to replace lost members or to form new teams.
2) The only way for a jumper to compete at world level is to join or be recruited into an existing top-level team.
To address 1), Lilac writes in her article initially: "Lise Aune from Deland Norgies and Dawn English on Deland FX, 4th and 5th respectively at the World Cup 2000, are examples of how women can be equals to their male teammates."
Both FX and the Norgies have women members. Both are in the top five 4-way teams on the planet. Doesn't this demonstrate that men and women can compete at world level on the same team? Even after Dawn English left FX she was re-recruited to its existing line-up after some members left to join Airspeed. Yes, women are under-represented in these teams, but then again, women are under-represented in skydiving as a whole, and that is a separate issue.
To address 2). Is this the case? I know that members of representative teams the world over have made enormous financial and personal sacrifice to get to their level in FS. Any member recruited into an existing team has been given a leg-up into FS competition, I agree, but if that opportunity doesn't present itself, what do you do? Go compete. Form a team, train, train, and compete. This should be regardless of gender. Sure, make the team you compete with all female, or all male, or mixed. But compete in the same competition, against the same caliber of skydivers. By doing this, we not only ensure that the standard of competition is high, but that teams continue to push the boundaries of their discipline and further the sport.
Lilac goes on to say, "There are so few female skydivers already, taking away an opportunity for growth and development will certainly not promote more female participation. "
This is where I think issues have gotten confused. Yes, I completely agree that the male/female proportion of skydivers is radically skewed, and we should work towards getting as wide a cross-section of society as possible active in our sport. That is one issue.
I also agree that having some all-female teams dominating FS would be a great role-model for females just getting into the sport. But in a separate competition? Why? What does a mixed team or an all-male team do if they're turning a 13 average, and want to go to a world meet? Keep training, and make the sacrifices that the teams who are there now have made, and continue to make. Why should this be different for another team, simply because they are all the same gender? That is the second issue, and introducing a women's event simply confuses the two.
Perhaps a better way to address the problem is to see more women's teams forming, or for a high-profile drop zone to sponsor a women's 4- or 8-way team, with the aim of bringing a more balanced male/female ratio to our sport. More exposure and support to a team like this would keep it in the public eye and act as a role model for novice female jumpers coming through the ranks.
To conclude. Competition is the most level ground we have for determining the elite competitors in the sport we love. I believe we should have one competition at world level for each discipline. Promoting all-female teams is a great idea, but each team, whether it be an all-female, all-male, or mixed, should be judged the same, against each other in the same competition. Every team has 35 seconds to show their stuff. Bring on the best!

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