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50/50 Ending Gender Discrimination in Lord Coe's IAAF


I put this web page together in July 2017 when in London for the IAAF World Championships. It remains relevant today, considering that the retention the 50km racewalk is still not assured.

When walking around inner London this week, it has been impossible to miss the many adverstiements and memorabilia honouring the long battle by Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes and celebrating the 1918 granting of the vote to women.

In the 99 years since that famous victory for women, women have continued to fight to improve their rights, always against strong opposition from establishment forces.

Sport has been one of the key areas in which women have had to fight for their place in the sun.

Consider the road to the women's Olympic marathon

  • 1966 - Roberta Gibb unofficially completes the Boston Marathon.
  • 1967 - Kathrine Switzer officially enters the Boston Marathon without disclosing her sex and an official tries to drag her off the course mid race.
  • 1972 – The Boston marathon rules changed to allow women to participate. Other big marathons (New York, etc)  slowly follow suite.
  • 1982 - The European Championship adds a women’s marathon.
  • 1984 - The first Olympic women’s marathon is held, with 44 of the 50 runners finishing. The race produces enduring footage of Swizz runner Gabriela Andersen-Schiess staggering up the finish straight, finally crossing the line in 37th place and collapsing. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hjm29CmMfg.

A process of nearly 20 years!

Women’s walking has had to similarly fight for recognition, starting with a Lugano Cup 5km championship in the 1970s, progressing to the Eschborn Cup10km and then the IAAF World Championship 10km in the 1980s and finally getting its Olympc representation in 1992 as a 10km roadwalk. In the 2000 Olympics, the women's championship distance was changed to 20km and remains at that distance now.

But the contrast with their male counterparts remains. Men have two Olympic walks (20km and 50km) while women have only one (20km).

Milestones on the way to a women's 50km

  • The women’s 50km has gained traction over the last 10 years, initially with national championships (UK, USA, China, Spain, Portugal, etc) and then more lately with area championships contested for the Americas.
  • 2016 – Erin Talcott qualifies for the IAAF World Race Walking Cup 50km. Entry refused by the IAAF. Erin granted permission to race. Finishes 40th, thus becoming the first ever woman to race in a 50km world championship.
  • 2016 - IAAF announces that the 2017 IAAF World Championship 50km will be open to both men and women but there will be a common qualifying standard of 4:06:00. In no other event are men and women treated in this way. One step forward, two steps back! The IAAF alllows women to compete in the 50km but makes it impossible for women to qualify!
  • 2016 - The IAAF advises it will officially recognise women’s 50km record as of 1st Jan 2017.
  • Jan 2017 - Inez Henriques of Portugal sets an inaugural women's 50km World Record of 4:08:26 on 15th January 2017. This time is still over  minutes above the 2017 women's WC qualifying standard.
Ines Henriques World Record
  • June/July 2017 – The Women’s 50km qualifying standard is challenged on the grounds of gender discrimination. The IAAF relent and announce on 23rd July that any women who have bettered 4:30:00 in the qualifying period can compete in an inaugural women’s 50km World Championship in London. Five women are  now proposed by their Federations.

Shuqing YANG (CHN) 4:27:24
Hang YIN (CHN) 4:22:22
InÍs HENRIQUES (POR) 4:08:26
Kathleen BURNETT (USA) 4:26:37
Erin TALCOTT (USA) 4:29:33

  • July 2017 – A further 2 women are added to the field after a legal challenge on the basis of them being area champions. The entry lis has now risen to seven.

Nair DA ROSA (BRA) 4:39:28
Susan RANDALL (USA) 4:54:12

2017 50km World Championship Considerations

There are a number of serious issues with regard to the 2017 Women's 50m World Championship

  • The late nature of the decision to include the event

The IAAF has only added this event at the last minute (23rd July 2017), after significant pressure. Thus the entry list is small. If it had been announced in a timely fashion in 2016, many more women would have challenged themselves and put qualifying times on the board.

  • The 4:30:00 Qualifying Standard

The women’s 50km qualifying standard of 4:30 is 9.76% above the men’s 50km standard of 4:06:00.

But consider....

The womens’ marathon qualification standard of 2:45:00 is 18.7% above the men’s standard of 2:14:00
The women’s 10,000m qualification standard of 32:15 is 16.1% above the men’s standard of 27:45.

Is this fair?

  • The Inappropriate Cut-Off Time

The IAAF has mandated that all women must reach the 48km mark by 4:17:00. Based on average speed, this equates to a 50km finishing time of 4:27:43 (ie nearly 1% faster than the qualifying standard of 4:30:00). In no other event is there a finish cutoff faster than the qualifying standard.

Consider the men’s marathon just contested in London, where the qualifying standard was 2:19:00. A corresponding cutoff would be 2:17:49. Of the 71 finishers (27 DNF’d), only 29 would've been allowed to finish! Imagine if the clock was stopped and a barrier put across the finishing line at 2:17:49. Oh, the media field day that would have ensued!

Remember this if you see any women being flagged off the course at the 4:17:00 time. It is a blatant case of gender discrimination.

Going forward

The 2017 World Championship 50km for women is the first step in the right direction. The next few years must see further opportunities for women to challenge themselves over the 50km standard.

  • 2018 IAAF World Race Walking Teams Championships, Taicang, China, May 2018

The IAAF must now announce a Women's 50km Racewalk to be included in this meet, with up to 5 competitors per Member Federtation. Like the men, no qualifying standard should be set.  It should be left to Member Federations to set their own standards and propose on their own women's 50km teams.

  • 2019 IAAF World Championships, Doha, August 2019

The IAAF must build on the small start made this year in London, set a sensible qualifying standard and allow up to 3 women per Member Federation to compete in these championships.Only then will gender discrimination in this event be removed. Further, the IAAF entry standard should be set at 4:52:00 (18.7% above the men's 50km standard).

  • 2020 Olympic Games, Japan, August 2020

This remains the ultimate goal for women long distance walkers. Only with support from the IAAF will this wish be transformed into reality. It does not necessarily mean an additional event to be added to the Olympic program. A joint race is possible,with man and women competing alongside each other in a single 50km race, as is the case in 2017. In these days of electronic timing, field sizes are not of significance.

Press Conference Document

Ending Gender Discrimination in Lord Coe's IAAF.pdf