12 Feb 2018

Women in FAI: meet Gillian Rayner, the newly elected President of the FAI Parachuting Commission (IPC)

Female pilots and athletes have contributed hugely to the world of air sports over the more than 100 years the FAI has been established. So it is hardly surprising that women hold a number of important positions within the FAI today. Former FAI Executive Director Gillian Rayner (another female first) – recently elected to head up the Federation’s first all-female Commission bureau – is one of them.

A doyenne of the parachuting world, Gillian has been involved with the FAI for three decades. She started skydiving in 1978 while on a summer holiday, before becoming a parachuting instructor and later training as a judge – a role she continues to enjoy today.

Here, she shares her views on women in air sports with us…

Congratulations on being elected as President of the IPC! The news that all the members of the new Commission Bureau are female may come as a surprise to some - why do you think this has happened now?

Thank you for your congratulations. I am very happy with the result of the elections, even though the all female bureau is a bit of a surprise, even to me.

However, I believe I am the right person for the job at this present time, while my female colleagues are all strong active members of the skydiving community and are recognised as such.  

I hope that we will be role models for other women who want to play an active role in sport politics.

How long have you been involved with the FAI?

I attended my first IPC meeting in 1988 as interpreter to the French Delegate. 

Two years later I returned as the delegate, before attending my first FAI General Conference with the French delegation in 2004. I have not missed one since.

Roles I have held over the years include judge, jury member, FAI World Air Games Liaison, and FAI Controller.

I was also honoured to be IPC Technical Secretary from 1998 to 2002 and then 1st Vice President from 2007 until 2014, when I was elected FAI Executive Director – a position I held until 2016.

What is your vision for the IPC now you are President?

One key objective is to work closely with the French Parachute Federation, the FAI and the IPC on the Olympic Project that, if successful, will see Indoor Skydiving as an event at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

I also hope to see the start of an Indoor Skydiving World Series in 2019.

When it comes to Outdoor Skydiving, I intend to challenge our specific discipline committees to find ways of increasing participation and making their disciplines more exciting and attractive to audiences and athletes alike.

Has the role of women in the FAI evolved since you started working with the Federation?

When I read stories on the FAI website about women who were among the first aviators, I feel that women have always had the capacity to play key roles in the evolution of air sports.

However, it has taken time for us to be taken seriously as sport politicians.  

Fortunately, female political representation has increased considerably over the years: proof that the FAI is working towards gender equality.

Our role now is to show other women that there is a place for them and encourage more and more women to join us.

How does working with women differ from working with men?

Obviously, one has to cope with different personalities regardless of gender.

But I believe that women take more time to listen, work better in a team, and are not only goal oriented but also think more about how to achieve their goal.

Overall, I also believe we are less aggressive and more empathetic.

Do you think there are more women taking part in competitive air sports now than in the past?

I’m not convinced that it is necessarily easier for women to participate in top-level air sports competitions now.

In open events, men have a much higher chance of being selected than women. It is also interesting to note that there are a number of women performing well in newer parachuting events such as Canopy Piloting, a very challenging and physical discipline in which female athlete Cornelia Mihai is ranked second in the Open Overall classification.

Access to sport in general is perhaps easier now for women than it was twenty or so years ago, as family responsibilities are better shared and work/life balance is easier.

How can we encourage more women to take part in air sports competitions?

I believe we need to promote female achievements so women can see what can be done, and dream of doing the same.

The Olympic Agenda 2020 states that the IOC should "work with the International Federations to achieve 50 per cent female participation in the Olympic Games”.

We should be working towards the same end – creating more opportunities for women to participate in air sports competitions.