Let me preface this post with some background information. The racing world firestorm started last week with this article in Sports section of The New York Times. In short, a new ruling by the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) states that it will “recognize women’s road-race records only if they are set in ‘women’s only’ events.” To further complicate the situation, the IAAF has then made the ruling retroactive, so that even previously set records no longer count as “records.” Outraging many racers and racing fans alike, commentaries were then posted by ESPN and by Runner’s World. What follows is my opinion.
To Whom It May Concern:
I realize that I am one voice among thousands that are speaking out regarding your recent ruling on women’s records being set at women’s-only events. To say that this ruling is unfair is a gross understatement. Other words that come to mind are unwarranted, unreasonable, and unjust.
This ruling is nothing short of unreasonable. The argument that women’s records should not be upheld because they use faster men to pace them is asinine. At the core, it is tantamount to saying that my personal PR should not “count” if I, say, paced with a female who happened to be African-American. Primarily, pacing is not considered illegal, cheating, or technically against the rules. If anything, some consider it to be a smart racing strategy. Runners race to push themselves. Otherwise, they would never sign up for a competitive event in the first place. Secondly, if a racer chooses to pace with another runner, what does it matter if that runner is of a different gender, ethnicity, etc. At the end of the day, are all racers not competing on the SAME course under the SAME conditions?
My next question to you is, why even make this ruling in the first place? I was not aware that there was so much controversy surrounding women’s records that such a ruling was even necessary. If no such controversy even existed, however, then this ruling seems completely arbitrary and serves no purpose other than to waste people’s time discussing the matter. More importantly, even bringing it up now puts a black smudge over incredible records and achievements by runners like Paula Radcliffe, Deena Kastor, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Katherine Switzer. At this point, even if you were to reverse your ruling, you have already managed to taint their records. That, to me, seems irresponsible.
For decades, female runners and racers have wanted nothing but to compete on an even playing field. From my perspective, it is not that we want special favors or advantages; we merely want to be considered equal. How is segregating the genders and relegating us to women’s-only events keeping the competition even? How does this raise morale for women in the sport of running? Similarly, do you plan on having men compete in men’s-only events? After all, there are some women who are faster than men and we wouldn’t want those men to have an unfair advantage by pacing with a female, would we? Over the last several decades, female runners have been discouraged from competing, told they were not capable of competing at the same level as men, and even had spectators attempt to pull them off race courses. At the end of the day, just let the female runners run, no special rules or consolations. Just let them do what they have trained and worked so hard to do. These women have sacrificed to be the elites of their sport and if everything they have given up pays off by way of outstanding race records, please recognize that and give them all the accolades you would if they were male. To take away their personal bests and records is demoralizing and insulting. It is just that simple.
I realize that you will receive an incredible amount of feedback regarding this ruling and that my letter will probably get lost in the shuffle. However, I do feel the need to make my voice heard. I look forward to watching how this issue progresses. I have a strong feeling this is not then end of this issue.
Are you a male or female runner? How does this ruling make YOU feel? Do you think they will ever overturn it?