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WA launches gender equality initiative for International Women’s Day

#WeGrowAthletics is the latest project from World Athletics, and its focus is on working toward gender equality in sport

toronto women's run Photo by: Toronto Women's Run Series

In honour of International Women’s Day, World Athletics (WA) announced a new initiative called #WeGrowAthletics. This project is centred around gender equality in the global athletics community, which WA president Seb Coe says his organization will continually strive to reach. WA has listed three “core pillars” that will help further the push for gender equality: empowering women to pursue leadership positions; giving women a platform to speak and fighting online abuse; and “breaking traditions” in WA competitions. 

Pushing for female leadership

First up is WA’s pledge to promote gender equality in leadership roles in the sport. This has been a focus for WA for several years, and officials expect to reach 50-50 gender equality in the World Athletics Council in the coming years, with 13 men and 13 women representing the organization. 

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Working from the top down, WA has said it will work toward gender equality on “panels for technical officials and across staff at World Athletics HQ.” WA is also focusing on individual sport organizations around the world and ensuring that they all promote leadership opportunities for women. 

Promoting female voices and tackling abuse

WA has also pledged to put “greater emphasis on how and by whom women’s stories are told on its platforms together with making them a safer space for everyone.” The content itself on the WA site has been equally split between men and women for years, but officials have noted the need to hire more women to produce these articles, videos and photographs. 

2018 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Photo: Victah Sailer/PhotoRun

While content can be produced by women and focused on female athletes, WA has noticed the ever-present issue of online abuse, which has led to a reevaluation of the organization’s anti-harassment policies for its social media channels. This will “combat online abuse including but not limited to hate speech, bullying, sexism, racism and other misconduct.” 

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Breaking traditions 

For years, WA events have ended with men’s competitions. At the world championships, for example, the men’s 4 x 400m relay is the final race of the week. At the WA’s annual awards show, it’s the Male World Athlete of the Year who gets called last to wrap up the evening. Even the WA website has been male-focussed, with the default landing page for stats and rankings falling on the men’s lists. 

“World Athletics recognizes the effect this practice – rooted in the sport’s beginnings – has in downplaying women’s performances,” officials write. Because of this, WA has pledged to review event schedules and “put greater focus on highlighting women’s disciplines,” with the biggest example of this to come at the 2022 world championships in Oregon. 

The start of the 2012 Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon. Photo: Ryder Photography

The Female World Athlete of the Year will be the closing award in 2021 (and the order will be reviewed for the following years), and the WA site will default to women’s stats. These might seem like trivial and unnecessary changes, but it’s small adjustments made now that lead to the bigger ones WA will work toward in the coming years.

To read WA’s full list of pledges for the #WeGrowAthletics campaign, click here

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