The ‘motherhood penalty’? Controversy as Vendée Globe skipper Clarisse Cremer loses sponsor
Banque Populaire’s dropping of Clarisse Cremer has caused widespread outrage among the offshore sailing community, and has become a huge national story in France
IMOCA skipper Clarisse Cremer, who has recently given birth to her first child, has been controversially dropped by her sponsor Banque Populaire ahead of the 2024 Vendée Globe.
Cremer, who currently holds the record for being the fastest woman to sail solo around the world, raced for Banque Populaire in the last Vendée Globe, and was due to take the helm of the former Apivia for the same backers in the 2024 race.
In a post on her Facebook page, Cremer explained that, although she wasn’t obligated to, she had told her sponsors in February 2021 that she planned to start a family.
“They still chose me for this new Vendée Globe and communicated our mutual commitment in autumn 2021.
“I learned last Friday that Banque Populaire had finally decided to replace me. By their decision, and despite my constant will, I will not be part of the Vendée Globe 2024.
“Vendée Globe rules for the 2024 edition require all skippers to compete based on race miles. On this note, I of course fell behind the other competitors at the start, this maternity leave, left me out of qualifying for a year.
“Today Banque Populaire decides that it represents for them a “risk” that they ultimately do not want to take.”
The news has caused widespread outrage among the offshore sailing community, but has also become a huge national story in France, with French politicians including Isabelle Rome, the Minister for Equality, and Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, Minister for Sport, wading into the row.
It’s nothing short of a PR disaster for Banque Populaire.
Race for Vendée Globe qualifying miles
The rules for Vendée Globe qualification have changed for 2024, with the race likely to be oversubscribed for the 40 available berths.
Previously skippers who had completed the race were guaranteed entry. However, this time around skippers must not only qualify their boat (by completing two solo races on it from a list of qualifying events, at least one of which MUST be in 2024, another of which could be in 2023 or 2022, so Cremer is only one season behind) but also build additional miles.
That’s because in the event that too many skippers qualify, spaces will be awarded to the skippers with the most miles sailed in all the IMOCA Globe Series races from the 2021 Transat Jacques Vabre onwards (in any boat). These are the races that Cremer hasn’t been able to build miles in over the past two years whilst pregnant and since giving birth in November 2022.
“I am in shock, other projects launched much more recently are still going on without an eyebrow [raised]. [There are] 2 full seasons left and 4 transatlantic [races] to get back on the level I was on” Cremer added.
The only other way to qualify is to have a new IMOCA 60 (the first 13 newly launched boats to qualify automatically gain entry), or a single ‘wildcard’ entry, for which the criteria are vague.
Banque Populaire yesterday issued a statement saying: “Clarisse is today in a situation which does not allow her to hope to obtain the number of points necessary to qualify for the Vendée Globe 2024.
“Aware of this risk for several months, Team Banque Populaire had begun discussions with SAEM Vendée in the summer of 2022 to address the unique situation of the sailor, 12th in the Vendée Globe 2020/2021, 1st woman and holder of the women’s record.
“Determined to take the start of the race alongside her in 2024, several solutions have been proposed by Team Banque Populaire to the organizer so that the regulations take into account the situation of women in the Vendée Globe and the question of maternity.
“All these proposals, as well as requests for the allocation of a wildcard guarantee, have been rejected, including the one made just a few days ago, and this is regrettable.
“In order, despite everything, to guarantee the future of the project in the next Vendée Globe and with regard to human (creation of a team) and financial (acquisition of a boat) investments, Team Banque Populaire must unfortunately resign itself to evolve its project by entrusting the Banque Populaire XII bar to a new skipper whose name will be communicated in the coming days.”
It’s worth noting that the IMOCA in question, Apivia, was still being raced by its previous skipper Charlie Dalin up to and including last year’s Route du Rhum (he finished 2nd). So the new skipper of the boat when it becomes Banque Populaire XII will still need to qualify the IMOCA with two solo races in 2023 and 2024.
Several hours later, race organisers also posted a response on social media, saying: “In order to preserve the fairness of all candidates… the Race Organisation cannot under any circumstances allow itself to change the rules when the selection process has already begun.
“For the Wild Card, this is a possibility that has been discussed with Team Banque Populaire and Clarisse Cremer. This cannot be decided until the end of the selection process, as the Vendée Globe does not know which skippers could be eligible.”
Banque Populaire has been one of the biggest investors and most successful sponsors in French ocean racing for many years. The stable’s incredibly high profile and high value campaigns have included setting the non-stop around the world fully crewed record, the Jules Verne Trophy, with Loick Peryon skippering in 2011 (they also sponsored Peyron in a Vendée Globe), and Armel le Cléac’h’s 2016 Vendée Globe-winning campaign.
In 2021 they launched Banque Populaire XI, a brand new 100ft Ultime to be skippered by Le Cléac’h in solo and crewed record attempts, after their previous Ultime broke up and was deemed a total write off during the 2018 Route du Rhum. Even the most conservative estimates of the cost of such a project put it north of €10million.
“They’re willing to take on the risk of a giant trimaran, and all the natural, technical and human hazards of racing offshore, but obviously not motherhood,” wrote Cremer.
“If offshore racing exists today it is because sponsors choose it as a communication lever and use it to tell beautiful sporting stories and therefore, a priori, human. I am totally confused with the story this sponsor is choosing to tell today: ‘The Globe Vendée, at all costs.’
Cremer is clearly a great asset to any sponsor and is a well known female face of the sport. Young, bright, articulate and bilingual, she delivered engaging videos throughout the Vendée Globe as well as hitting some serious performance targets by finishing 12th on her first attempt and setting a new world record for the fastest woman to sail solo around the world.
Nobody else’s decision
Cremer is rare and brave in speaking up publicly. Usually when skippers are replaced in big offshore campaigns they ‘go quietly’, dip back into the Figaro or Class 40 for a while, then maybe – or maybe not – get reappointed for another campaign later down the line. There’s often the Lorient equivalent of a football transfer season around the big race dates.
In doing so it’s clear there is widespread support for her, as well as a great deal of anger. Women sailors have a right to be angry about this, because the online reaction has highlighted one other huge thing that has to stop in our sport: questioning whether a mother should go sailing around the world.
I’ve seen it in comment after comment debating Cremer’s situation; “You have a baby… your daughter will miss you… It’s for the best…” But I have watched countless farewell scenes of male sailors saying goodbye to their families on the dock. I’ve welled up at footage of skippers hugging a tousle-haired toddler knowing they’ll be half a foot taller the next time they see them. I’ve read endearing stories of how male sailors have discovered they’re going to be a father on a crackly satphone connection.
Not once have I ever read criticism of them for going. Not once have I seen a male sailor questioned for not being at home supporting their partner, for not bonding with their baby, for missing ‘precious moments’. It’s a criticism that is solely levelled at women and it needs to end. Now. There’s only one person in the world who can make that decision.
To see the full list of qualification mileage the various skippers have managed to date you can head over to ouest-france.fr who keep track of all the miles completed by all skippers in the wide variety of qualifying races on their Vendee mileage tracker.
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