Why should there be equal race distances, equal team sizes, and basic equal access within our sports? We explain our reasoning below in an article, published by Vermont Sports Magazine.
Want to know more about sports equality as it relates specifically to your sport? Follow these links on our website:
- Equality for WMRA Mountain Running
- Equality for NCAA Cross Country Running
- Equality for NCAA Nordic Skiing
Sports Equality, as published in Vermont Sports Magazine
by Molly Peters and Kasie Enman
This past July in Bend, Oregon two hundred twenty-eight strong, fit, competitive athletes gathered for the 2023 US Mountain Running Championship. The course was set on a 4.2k loop up and down Mount Bachelor. Three races took place: a 3 lap men’s championship race, a 2 lap women’s championship race, and a 1 lap open community race. At the conclusion of the championship races, the top finishers were offered the privilege of representing the USA at the World Mountain Running Championship, an IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) event organized by the WMRA (World Mountain Running Association). If you were paying attention as the newly selected teams were brought to the podium, you might have noticed six men standing in front of you yet only four women.
WMRA rules currently state that, at the World Mountain Running Championship, which the US National races emulate in order to select the best possible team, men must run approximately 12k and women 8k in distance, along with required amounts of ascent/descent. Countries are allowed to enter up to six men, of which four score and up to four women, of which three score. That is fact. The questions everyone should be asking is why fewer women? Why do women and men race different distances? And what message does this send to our young female athletes?
It is hard to believe in 2023 this type of discrimination is still happening. It is occurring at the local level as well. If you go to any College Cross Country running race or EISA College Nordic race you will notice that the distances are almost always less for the women. Race distances are also unequal at the highly competitive Eastern Cup Nordic races, where no matter what the race distance the women almost always go 5km less. We are only hurting the development of our young female athletes by not challenging them, by putting women in an inferior position. Unequal opportunity between the genders promotes the acceptance of second-class citizenship and sends incorrect information to women about their own abilities, assuring the discrimination continues. We need to take a stand and demand equality.
We have seen progress from the 1960s when women were banned from competing in distances longer than 800m on the track. Everyone now has the opportunity to compete in the full range of distances on the track and on the roads thanks to laws like Title IX and leaders like Katherine Switzer and Joan Benoit. We now know that a woman can safely complete a marathon without her uterus falling out. In 2013 a whopping 243,500 women completed a marathon in the United States (and no uteri were lost!). In addition, according to Running USA, women’s participation numbers in running events from the 5k to half marathon have surpassed men’s participation with 57% of all road race finishers being female. So, why have our governing bodies corrected their rules for some similar endurance sport events, but not others? Why are we still telling women they can’t field a full team or go the distance?
After competing at the World Mountain Running Championship, members of our US women’s team publically called for equal team size, equal distance for all and some even ran an informal 3rd loop of the course because they could. Just as we were writing this article, Paula Radcliffe, a leader in our sport, spoke out and got distances equalized for women and men at the World Cross Country Championships, yet the junior race distances at that same championship were left unequal. It is time for us all to stand up and ask why. We need to send full women’s teams to events and we need to be competing in equal distances with the men. Men and women please join us in questioning these unjust, outdated standards. Talk with your fellow athletes, coaches, and organizers. Visit our website www.sportequality.org to sign our petitions and learn what you can do to help.