The Women for Tri initiative
Last week WTC announced 12 members who would join the ‘Women For Tri’ board of advisors.
It would seem everybody is very happy with WTC’s new initiative Women For Tri. I also am of the opinion growing female participation in the sport of triathlon can only be a good thing and look forward to what the board can achieve as they “welcome and empower new female triathletes to be part of the sport’s continued exponential growth.”
What I don’t like is this initiative being presented as a WTC solution to a problem that WTC created and could easily solve in the first place.
You don’t need an independent women’s board to tell you there should be an equal number of Kona slots open to women as to men. You need a calendar. It’s 2015.
The WTC has a number of problems regarding unfairness and inequality in our sport. However, it’s treatment of women as whole is not one of them.
Here’s why: WTC has paid equal prize money for women for a lot longer than most would think. This has long been the case despite the fact that up until recently the amount of women participants was usually 90% less than the men. So the WTC to their credit have stuck to their guns on this issue.
The woefully inadequate amount of money they do pay is a different issue. The decision to give back less than 1% through the pro prize pool represents a strategic business decision by WTC regarding how much they are willing to put back into the sport. It’s not a women specific issue as such.
If we are talking money I would also add that the scandalously overpriced entry fees all age-group athletes pay are another example where WTC treat participants equally regardless of gender.
With that, there certainly is an issue for pro women in terms of getting race organisers to make a “commitment to creating race conditions in which the world’s best women can compete on a level playing field without interference” as identified by Sara Gross in her excellent article for Witsup.com.
Kona 2014 – neither fair to the women’s leaders nor safe for those crowded with the men.
The women’s pro field continues to be treated as second class citizens in their own World Championships. The pro women start after the pro men and before the age group men, while being subject to drafting rules that essentially mean slow men can cause penalties for the fastest women, while slow pro women get the advantage of fast age-group men pulling them through the field.
Now the solutions to overcoming this are the subject for another blog.
However, the pertinent point I’d like to make is that the failed attempt by pro women to force WTC’s hand on this issue last year should not be confused with the Women for Tri initiative.
‘He who represents himself has a fool for a client’. – Abe Lincoln
In order to subdue the genuine grievances of the women pros while at the same time providing some good copy to counter the Challenge take over of the media agenda on this issue, Andrew Messick has has given women athletes a board that can at best play lip service to WTC and has no real executive power to enforce change. That is the reality which I would encourage those pros fighting this issue not to get complacent about.
Another point I’d make is that while I only have the utmost respect for the CVs of the 12 women who have selected on the board, if we truly needed a separate body, why would you make it so American-centric? Every member is from the USA.
Here are some rough female participation figures from last year:
IM Hawaii – Females 28% IM Chatanooga – Females 30% IM Arizona – Females 29% IM Coeur d’Alene – Females 27% IM Boulder – Females 26%
While we all want these numbers to get better, they actually represent a phenomenal achievement by WTC in improving participation levels from where they were just 5 years ago. Numbers here are rapidly reaching parity with women participation percentages across sports. So kudos to WTC on the strides forward that have been made here.
But this is where you lose me: IM Frankfurt – Females 9% IM Barcelona – Females 9% IM Brazil – Females 9% IM Malaysia – Females 9%
Even IM Australia – Females 15%
These are not new areas for triathlon, but locations that have been doing the sport a lot longer than some of their American counterparts. So while the WTC has done a mighty job in the USA, the question is ‘could this committee have been better based in Europe or in Asia?’ WTC is already kicking goals in the USA, but what message does it send to the women who pay their entry fees in Europe? What does it say about its policy to women who don’t live a stone’s throw from WTC Head Office?
It is quite obvious where WTC efforts need to be directed to help mobilise greater interest in the sport and provide an approachable, accessible and meaningful platform for women to achieve their fitness ambitions through triathlon. I wish the board all the best in their endeavours.
Hillary Biscay, ex-squaddie and now board member. Well qualified and I’m sure she will do a great job for women.