Last week a collective of of athletes and advocates launched TriEqual.com to support the #50WomenToKona movement and TMC had the chance to check in with a number of board members to get the inside scoop. Far more than a social media platform, TriEqual.com has big plans.
TMC: What do you think raising awareness about gender equality in the sport will ultimately achieve? How do you hope increased support will change the position Ironman currently holds?
Sara Gross: TriEqual has been pleasantly surprised to find that we have a lot of supporters in the triathlon community as whole. Basically, a lot of people agree that elite athletes should have equality at the World Championships. Many of us and our supporters have contacted Andrew Messick (Ironman CEO) or Paula Newby Fraser to discuss the issue starting as early as 2011. And while Messick and others have been very open to discussion, ultimately the WTC feel that their current policy of 35 women and 50 men is fair, and, they obviously hold all the power on this issue. So that leaves us thinking: How do we create change?
One of the ways to create change is to raise the volume of our concerns on social media. We are hoping that through social media campaigns, more people will understand what is happening and also that the WTC will realize just how many of their customers actually feel strongly about the need for equality.
Lastly, by spreading the word we have gained many new volunteers who are wanting and willing to help us. We are organizing events, communicating with pros, starting initiatives through supportive brands such as Coeur Sports and SMASH. We are also writing letters to the sporsors of Ironman-branded events to inform them about the persisting inequality and the WTC’s refusal to change. In addition to this we are planning to launch initiatives to increase female participation at the age group level which will ultimately help create equality for amateur women as well at the World Championships. And all of this is happening by members of the TriEqual Board and other people who are generously donating time and resources. In the end we are hoping to create a situation where women feel that Triathlon is a sport in which they are welcome and treated with complete equality and respect at every level. That is our heritage and we intend for it to continue.
TMC: What does the TriEqual board say to Ironman’s insistence on proportional representation at Kona?
Rachel Joyce: At the moment at the Ironman World Championship in Kona 50 professional men are given the opportunity to qualify, whilst only 35 women have that same opportunity. That goes against the principles of equality. Women should have an equal opportunity to race. At the moment they do not. Ironman and detractors of equality argue that there are fewer registered professional women. They also argue that the women’s race is not as deep as the men’s race. Whilst TriEqual does not agree with either of those arguments we also say “So what?” – that is no defence against the current inequality. If Ironman believes that this sport is open to men and women equally, they should lead by example and create equality at the very pinnacle of the sport. Give women equal starting slots as men. The professional women can lead by example. The professional women should have an equal opportunity to represent their sponsors on the biggest stage in the sport. I cannot think of another sport where… a basic principle like equality has to be debated.
TMC: Are there other opportunities in the works for those who want to get involved beyond showing their support on social media or by purchasing gear?
There is so much more to do and so many ways to get involved including:
* Outreach and education of all athletes, not just women in our sport, about what the issues are and what we’re trying to achieve. We welcome you to spend some time on the TriEqual.com website and/or contact one of us so we can spend some time talking in detail about where we are and where we need to go, then take that message back to your friends, training partners and tri teams. Let’s keep the conversation going.
* Outreach to broader markets outside the sport of triathlon. Do you have contacts at places like The Presidents Council on Fitness? The Women’s Sports Foundation? Sports Illustrated? 60 Minutes Sports? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Spreading our mission beyond the sport of triathlon will help our cause.
* Outreach to owners and sponsors who support WTC and are unknowingly supporting gender inequality in the process. Have a few minutes on your hands? Draft a letter or email letting the above-mentioned parties know that you support equal opportunity in the sport of triathlon, that there is a desire to increase female participation rates in the sport and that having more role models at the professional level–this is an easy way to help move that proverbial ball down the field. Although fifteen more participants in Kona is a small number—a mole hill—symbolically, it’s mountainous. Let the sponsors and owners of WTC hear your voice.
* “TBD”. There are things we haven’t even thought of yet! So we welcome anyone with ideas of how to spread this important message in pursuit of our mission or those who want to get more involved to contact us through the TriEqual.com website.
TMC: You’ve amassed an impressive board. Many of you are doing advocacy work while racing pro and coaching or running businesses, what kind of a message are you hoping that complexity and dynamism sends to junior and development-level female athletes in the sport?
Karen Smyers: Belief in our mission has drawn a somewhat diverse group of us together to unite behind a common goal. Triathlon tends to attract energetic, passionate people and my fellow board members exude those traits. And because we come from different professions and stages of life, there is a wealth of ideas and resources we have been able to utilize. Although we have yet to accomplish our first goal of equality at the start line in Kona for the female professionals, we have succeeded in educating people about the mission, mobilizing a large number of people to show their support for the cause and increased the number of people who want to get involved through our website TriEqual.com. I think it is a great example to the future professionals out there who will take note and learn that you have to be involved and fight for what you believe to affect change. And I do believe that once we accomplish our mission, it will absolutely help my daughter’s generation to have more opportunities and to be treated more fairly no matter what she does–because our principle of equal opportunity and reward is one that transcends our sport.