Picking up from where we left off in this discussion of Gender Equality in the sport of Triathlon, I will now consider some of the occasions in which race organizers and federations failed to uphold triathlon’s tradition of equality. How the athletes and ITU congress members dealt with this push back and the remarkable integrity among those who fought to keep the equality we now enjoy is something we can all learn from. Here is part 2b.


The Crystal Lite Triathlon: 1984

In conversation with Mark Allen, he told the following story:

I can recall one example of how the athletes coalesced into a solid unified voice for equality of prize money. It was at the Crystal Lite Triathlon in New York City. It was a huge media event. We were going to swim from the Statue of Liberty over to Manhattan, bike the Great Highway and then do an abbreviated loop of Central Park finishing where the New York Marathon finishes.


It was a huge event. However, the prize purse was not equally split between men and women. The argument for the unequal split was that the men’s field was deeper. None of us really agreed with the logic. So as a group we went to the race organizer and said that the prize money had to be equal first to last prize for men and women. We agreed that yes, there were more pro men but that it didn’t justify loading up the men’s purse for two reasons.


Mark Allen (L) and Dave Scott (R) with Mirinda Carfrae and Rachel Joyce 2014 Ironman Hawaii

1 – The first was that the quality of athlete in both fields, say in the top five, was equally world class.

2 – Second, even though the men’s field had more pros, we argued that if the women were ever going to have equally deep fields that the incentive had to be there. What woman is going to put it all on the line if only the winner is going to do well? We were trying to do forward thinking and help promote the growth of the sport overall.  

The organizers acquiesced, at least partially. What they ended up doing was to take the total purse and split it evenly, which meant that they took money out of the men’s prizes and distributed it into the women’s purse. We had hoped that they would add to the women’s purse, but also knew that this might be the outcome. I ended up winning that event, and because of our solid unified voice of ALL pro athletes, ended up walking away with a substantially reduced paycheck. But it was one that had a good conscience attached to it.”

The parallels between this story and our current situation are multitude. In 1984, the pro athletes stood up for equal prize money and today we are standing up for equal opportunity to race at World Championships. The race organizers used the same rational that the WTC is using today; there are less female pros, there is less depth. If Mark and the others hadn’t taken a stand then, where might we be now?


Erin Baker: Nice, France 1989

The Long Course World Championships held annually in Nice was as important in the 1980’s as Ironman Hawaii is today. I had heard that Erin staged a boycott of that race but the details of her story surprised me.

I did boycott Nice on that year for that reason (inequality), actually the money was equal, but the first person across the line also got a car, and the men and women started at the same time!Well… the man was going to win.” So Erin complained to the race organizers; “they told me that if I won, they would give me a car, but they wouldn’t have it as an official thing.” Basically, they offered Erin a private deal that they were not willing to extend to the other women. Erin: “So I said no, it had to be EQUAL and didn’t go… However, I was the ONLY one that I can remember that didn’t go – So much for woman’s lib!”


The degree of integrity shown by Erin in this instance is amazing. Having exchanged a couple emails with her, I get the impression that she simply saw something happening that was not right and therefore did not attend. End of story.


The ITU vs the French Government: Avignon, France 1989

This next story made me proud to be a triathlete.

The first Congress for the newly formed ITU was held in Avignon, France in April 1989. The French Government refused to pay the elite women the same money as the men. Their reasons were the same as those who had gone before. The women’s field is not as large nor as deep as the men’s. But as we have seen, equality was an important part of the bigger picture for Les MacDonald and his supporters. As such, Les and another of the ITU’s founding leaders Phil Briars orchestrated one of the seminal moments in ITU history. They arranged for most of the elite athletes, men and women, to march into the meeting and demand equal prize money. As the Congress gathered for their first meeting:  “the doors swept open and there standing at the lead of the pack were Erin Baker and Mark Allen.” See Loreen Barnett on Legends 

The French government were forced to back down and the rest is history. That year there were 66 elite women in the race and 115 men.

At that time, Les, Phil, Loreen and the others were volunteers. There they were, pursuing their dream of taking triathlon to the Olympic Games while working full-time jobs and giving all their spare time to that cause. Les used his inheritance to help fund the start-up of the ITU. Loreen was donating her home as headquarters. Loreen and the others were known to donate various pieces of equipment such as printers etc. Had the French Government not acquiesced when the elite athletes stormed their meeting, these passionate volunteers were willing to put up the money for the women from their own pockets.  

As I collected all the bits and pieces of this story and these realities became clear to me, I was staggered by the comparison of these early leaders to what we are seeing now with the WTC. They were willing to stand up for equality at all costs and today we are being asked to produce “proof” that the addition of 15 women to the World Championship start line can contribute to the WTC’s bottom line. I recognize that the ITU and the WTC are two completely different types of organizations, but the comparison is valid. Both the ITU and the WTC are custodians of our sport and should be held accountable.


What Can We Learn from the Past?

Again, I find myself asking, what can we learn from these stories? One of my regrets as I write is that I did not have more time to reach out to more of the great people who have shaped our sport as I feel confident that there would be more history to share on this topic.

First of all, as pro athletes we must persevere in our efforts to find a unified voice. As a group we have as much heart and passion as the generations before us. Most of us have given up comfortable living to pursue our dreams. We don’t all agree on all the issues, but we should agree to stand together and take care of the pro women. If we can find a unified voice on this issue, then we can find a unified voice on other issues such as increased prize purses.

I felt inspired by Erin and Mark’s stories. Standing up for what they believed in came at a cost and they displayed a level of integrity that I only hope we can find in ourselves. Erin saw the fundamental moral dilemma of the offer made to her by the race organizers in Nice and chose not to attend. Most of the other women attended anyway. I clearly understand both sides in this story. When push comes to shove, how far are we willing to go to gain equal treatment?

For the triathlon community as a whole, let us continue to see this issue for what it is. The pro women are being denied the same opportunity to race at the World Championships that is afforded their male counterparts. I hope we can all find the parts of ourselves that are willing to speak out, hit like, retweet or sign the letter here

Scott Molina tells me that as early as 1988 Erin Baker and Paula Newby Fraser asked for a separate start for the pro women in Hawaii. It took over 20 years to make that happen. How can we ensure it doesn’t take that long again? It turns out a lot of smart folks got together in 1994 and laid out a framework for just this sort of thing called The Brighton Declaration. Its purpose is to hold Sports Federations and organisations accountable with regards to gender equality.


(c) Korupt Vision

Aligning with the Brighton Declaration on Women in Sport

One of the ways that state and government organizations ensure that businesses and public authorities continue to act in support of the advancement of women in sport is by signing the Brighton Declaration of Women in Sport. Written but the International Working Group on Women and Sport in 1994, the Declaration has been signed by more than 261 organizations worldwide, including many federations and Olympic Committees (list here)

The purpose of the Declaration is to make sure that every effort is made “by state and government machineries to ensure that institutions and organizations responsible for sport comply with the equality provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Equal opportunity to participate and be involved in sport whether for the purpose of leisure and recreation, health promotion or high performance, is the right of every woman, regardless of race, colour, language, religion, creed, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, political belief or affiliation, national or social origin.

Resources, power and responsibility should be allocated fairly and without discrimination on the basis of sex, but such allocation should redress any inequitable balance in the benefits available to women and men”


The WTC is in the unique position of being a for-profit corporation that owns and operates international sporting events. Some of these events claim to be the “World Championships”. As such, it seems logical that we should hold them to the same standards as other sporting federations and governing bodies. It is up to us to insist on this level of ethical behaviour. Currently, the professional women in Ironman racing are not being given equal opportunity to race at World Championship level. This is in direct contradiction to the standard of equality as set out by the Brighton Declaration and signed by hundreds of Sports organizations worldwide.

As for the WTC, it is difficult to fault a company for making income its bottom line. As such, in the next instalment of my series I will be turning my focus to the business side. Companies that have gender equality within their leadership do better than those that do not. A face of equality is an image that can help any company improve their outcomes. Gender diversity can drive corporate performance. While I will never be an expert on this topic, I hope to at least explore some of the ways these statements are true.



Thanks again to Mark, Erin and Scott as well as Loreen, Sarah and Erin from the ITU. I also want to acknowledge all the men and women who have openly discussed the issues with me and continue to help me refine my knowledge and opinions.



Text by Sara Gross

Lead photo by Delly Carr

Photos by Korupt Vision and Witsup

One Response

  1. Kent Lassman

    There are many signatories to the Brighton Declaration from countries where WTC stages professional races including the home of the 2015 World Championships. Without looking closely, I recall South Africa, Mexico, United States, Austria, a mention of the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and St. Croix).

    Perhaps those signatories or the governing administrator of the Brighton Declaration is willing to raise the issue with the race directors, title sponsors and even the WTC who are making those races happen. I should like to think that a local mayor would not want international opprobrium for standing on the wrong side of equality when all he or she was doing is trying to lure or host a marquee event.


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