By Leslie Sexton
With the fall cross-country season approaching, it is time to continue the push towards gender equality in cross-country. Last year, the IAAF ruled that distances at the World Cross Country Championships will be 10K for both senior men and senior women. In July, provincial branches voted to align Canadian Championship distances with IAAF World Championship distances and senior women will race 10K in Kingston this fall at the Canadian Championships.
Despite these changes at the national and international level, the senior women’s distance at the Athletics Ontario Cross Country Championships remains at 6K. It is time that Athletics Ontario committed to the principle of gender equality in cross country and equalized distances at the senior level (at the very least). Already 48 out of 50 states in the US have equalized girls and boys cross country distances at the high school level, and Ottawa has done the same in their OFSAA qualifiers. Therefore, I ask Athletics Ontario to be a leader and revisit not only the senior championship distances, but all championship distances for age groups older than Bantam (after which the gender disparity in racing distance begins, with the exception of the Masters race).
Nowhere else in distance running is this disparity present. On the track and in road racing, all distances are equal between men and women and there are anything but recent changes. The women’s marathon was added to the Olympics in 1984 and the women’s 10,000m was added in 1988. Only cross country remains several decades behind the times, with women racing 25-40 per cent less distance, depending on the age group. It is time that cross country joined the 21st century and abandoned unequal distances as a relic of the past, as has been done in distance running on other surfaces.
It was shocking to me to see that despite this glaring inequality, the AO championships are hosting a “day of girl power” with a “Fast and Female” event aimed at girls between 8-18. I commend AO for their efforts in working with this organization, yet I have to question what kind of message AO is sending to young women when “Fast and Female Ambassadors” are not allowed to race the same distances as their male counterparts. If we truly wish to empower and inspire girls through sport, we must stop presenting women’s cross country as a lesser version of the men’s events and put the principle of gender equality into practice.
I have emailed the above to Katie Ozolins (Executive Director of AO) and Randolph Fajardo (Competitions, Technical Specifications, and Logistics Manager at AO). I encourage others who support gender equality in cross country to contact Athletics Ontario staff and ask for change. Athletes and coaches need to speak up on this and make ourselves heard if we are to challenge the status quo.
AO staff email addresses can be found here: http://athleticsontario.ca/staff/
Leslie Sexton is one of Canada’s top distance runners. She lives and trains in London, Ont.