by Matthew on March 23, 2015

There is a critical mass that has been growing for the better part of 9 months in triathlon, gathering and vocalizing, primarily across Social Media, for gender equality in slots at the world championship in Kona.  The inequality issue reflects the currents slot allotment across men and women.  There are currently 50 slots for men and 35 slots for women. Plenty of articulate voices have expressed themselves in blogs and interviews (see many of the best below).  I’ve been sitting rather silently here for the better part of 9 months clicking “Retweet” on the Twitter machine and mouthing off on occasion to those who will listen, but haven’t myself articulated something in a public forum.  Well, here is my disjointed articulation.  I do this from the perspective of a man who’s deeply interested in this issue – as a husband; as a father; as an uncle; and as the coach of two developing female professionals.

Doesn't this feel like what a Thursday staff meeting in Tampa must look like?

The argument most advanced by those wanting to keep the status quo is that the distribution of slots is relative to the percentage of male professionals versus female professionals.  Using numbers to justify the position is clean.  You’re dealing with discrete numbers that present well on paper and support a specific position: in this case, there are not enough women professionals at large to justify 15 more slots.  I get it.  On paper.  But…the real world is non-linear.  The real world is messy.  The real world isn’t played out on paper.  The real world is a place where discrimination and prejudice exist, and in fact, even in 2015, runs so rampantly it’s mind-boggling. Equality can’t be tied to numbers because it’s bigger (and messier) than a formula.  There’s a moral imperative that is woven into the commonality of our humanity that numbers and percentages are simply and resolutely not applicable.  There’s no numbers justification because moral imperatives go beyond numbers.

The second most touted argument for maintaing the status quo is that the 15 slots would go to female athletes that are not as competitive within the race relative to their male counterparts.  To evaluate those last 15 athletes to get into the race or even the last 7 that, in the current system, are added into the field at the end of August is impossible.  Within the current system, women must race more to secure their slot.  Thorsten Radde does a nice job summarizing that fact here.  Additional racing takes a toll on the body (and mind).  The cost of qualification more often than not comes at the price of performance at the biggest race of the year – Kona.  And while I haven’t done any analysis on it, I bet the cost of qualification for the last 7 women in the field comes at the cost of compromising some, if not most of the following season, if not seasons, as well.  I unfortunately have first-hand experience at that.  But I’ll save that story for another day. You can’t evaluate those last 7 women’s competitiveness in Hawaii versus the men.  That’s categorically flawed because it’s already a stacked deck.  Have the last, say 15 men, race as much as the last 15 women prior to Hawaii and then make a comparison and let’s find out who’s more competitive.  Until then, this argument doesn’t hold.

Haley Chura & I both know the cost of doing business of 35 slots

WTC has masterfully orchestrated the various pieces involved to their position.  In doing so, they’ve created friction among the professionals themselves.  They have pitted the men versus the women; The “haves” (established pros) versus the “have nots” (developing pros).  There isn’t a unified voice in the professional rank.  WTC has easily done this because the financial implications of unification or really, unionization, poses too great of a financial risk involved for “the haves” in a sport where the financial opportunities are simply laughable compared to other professional sports, and worse, other “sports.”  But regardless of unionization at the pro level, change will only come from the true stakeholders in WTC’s eyes: the investors.  Notice, I didn’t say the customers.  WTC  is a private equity play.  The investors and the value of their investment is the thing that will move the needle.  Now the customers ultimately effect the value of the investment.  And that’s how we who are interested in the issue must attack it.

The value of this brand is a reflection of entrants; of the merchandise sold; of the sponsorship dollars and licensing agreements.  It’s a reflection of the brand equity built (or lost) in the market, much of that brand equity established by public perception.  I’m not telling you to not race WTC events or buy their stuff (actually, I am telling you not to buy that AWA crap).  They put on excellent races (and so does Challenge/Rev3 and many local race directors). I am saying that you can effect that brand equity, though, in other ways.

The easiest way to support this cause is to email the owners of WTC, Providence Equity, directly and let them know what you think.  Specifically, tell them that their investment doesn’t match their principles of “Responsible Investing” stated here.   Almost as easily, take up the cause through Social Media.  Give this here a “Like” on Facebook.  Use the #50WomentoKona hashtag on Twitter.  Comment to @Ironmantri & @CEOIronman directly on Twitter.  Comment to WTC’s partners directly.  Email Ironman directly.  Call them.  Tell everybody who can effect the value of this brand that you think this issue is important and gender inequality is wrong.  Every bit of this played out in the public forum does have an effect on their brand value.  The public forum is the marketplace which ultimately effects value.

My 8-year-old daughter had no choice she was born with a vagina.  Because you were born with a different sex organ; because your skin is a different color; because your faith system is contrary to another; do any of these things mean you shouldn’t be afforded equal opportunities?  Even if we’re talking about a private equity play who’s sole business is to maximize returns to its investors?  I’m a bit quixotic but not naive.  I know equality in triathlon is not solving peace in the Middle East.  On paper (there’s that statement again!) it’s a really minor thing relative to all the major issues in the world.  However, it’s a tributary off of a major issue – gender discrimination.  And if there’s anything history tells us, institutional discrimination isn’t about one thing.  It’s about all the little things that relative to the big issue don’t seem like things we should really worry about. It’s about discounting all the little things – like equal slots for men and women in the marquee event in a small sport like triathlon – that when you take the sum of all the small parts perpetuates a global mentality that women are inferior to men.

My Daughter is the Second from the Right. She is #50WomentoKona just like every child on that team.

We – those of us who participate in the sport of triathlon – let this one little thing slide, we’re then a small part of the perpetuation of a much bigger and broader issue at hand.  That’s how I see it.  For the sake of not just my daughter but the human fabric in which I’m woven, in which my wife and sons are woven, and the world in which I want my family and I to live in, I can’t let this one go.  I encourage, no, actually, I implore you, not to let this go, too.  Move the needle. Today.

For some more reading on this issue, please visit this collection of great resources here:

9. http://www.swimbikemom.com/2015/03/50-women-kona-mud-social-media-rain.html

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