50 Women to Kona tackles ‘a very visible show of inequality’

We speak to Rachel Joyce, professional triathlete and co-founder of TriEqual, to find out everything you need to know about the #50WomentoKona campaign and about the website she’s helped create to fairness, development and equality in triathlon.

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>>> 50 Women to Kona campaign steps up a gear

To someone who doesn’t know about the movement, why is it so important?

Triathlon leads the way in many respects when it comes to equality. Women race over the same distance for the same prize money as men. This is brilliant and way ahead of some sports.

However, at one of the pinnacle events of the sport, the Ironman World Championships, 50 men are given the opportunity to qualify and race, while only 35 women are given that same opportunity (the same is true of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships). 

That is not equal. To some it may seem small, and say: “So what? It only affects 15 women.” Well, it affects 15 women every year. It means 15 women do not have the opportunity to represent their sponsors at the most visible event in the triathlon calendar.

Dear @CEOIronman, I tried to explain #50womentokona to my sons. Couldn’t. And to my daughters. Same. Sincerely, #agegrouperforequality

— Kent Lassman (@klassman) March 8, 2015

At TriEqual though, we think that the impact of unequal numbers at the top of the sport goes beyond just the professionals directly affected. Our mission is to help make triathlon a more fair and equal sport. Increasing women’s participation in the sport at all levels is encompassed by this. We believe that leading by an example can contribute to this effort. 

How successful was the #50WomentoKona campaign which took place over International Women’s Day?

It was successful in bringing this issue to the attention of many more people. Many age-groupers and fans of the sport were not aware of the unequal numbers in Kona. When they understood the situation, well, many got straight onto social media to voice their support.

@50WomenToKona She might not make it, she might not want it, but she should have the chance #50womantokona pic.twitter.com/ITGWFFtTfj

— Scott Gray (@scottjamesgray) March 9, 2015

From our point of view (TriEqual) that was huge. It raised awareness and by doing so showed us that this issue does matter to people. It highlighted to us, and perhaps some at the WTC, that this issue has the support of people outside the professional women’s field and this support can help us pursue our objectives.

Why is there a large focus on Kona?

TriEqual is focusing on gaining 50 starting spots for the professional women for a few reasons. For many people Kona is their first introduction to this thing called Ironman. It is an iconic race – the event that is on almost every triathlete’s bucket list. It is a very visible show of inequality.

I don’t know much but I do know pissing off a group of motivated intellegent women is a bad idea. #50womentokona #TWU

— Harold Wilson (@hwfitness) March 8, 2015

It is unfair to the women’s professional field. Symbolically it looks wrong. Having unequal numbers at the very top of the sport sends out a message that the sport is not for men and women equally. Ironman could use the professional fields to lead by example: make the statement that triathlon is a sport for men and women equally.  

What has been your personal involvement with the campaign?

I first wrote about the unequal starting slots back in 2013. Since then I have been vocal on the subject at various points. Through racing and social media a few of us started talking about this issue again last summer, and then again earlier this year.

Oh yes! I support fairness & equality at the World Ironman Champs. Let’s get @50womentokona @womensday pic.twitter.com/8juOLz13K8

— Chrissie Wellington (@chrissiesmiles) March 8, 2015

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Sara Gross wrote an excellent series of pieces looking at the history of women in the sport and looking at the ‘Kona issue’. That really put the wind beneath our sails and was a catalyst to really get us acting on our talk. That is how TriEqual was formed. 

In terms of my involvement: we are a group and so work together to discuss ideas, campaign and next steps.  I am just one of the contributors and voices of TriEqual.

What other groups are TriEqual campaigning for?

TriEqual was founded to promote equality in triathlon and to increase participation and diversity. We want to do this by expanding accessibility to the sport for all athletes, from beginners to elites. It is early days for us and yes, we have set our goals high.  

We are starting by focusing on the #50WomentoKona issue.  Ultimately we want to see the numbers of women participating equal that of the men so the age group fields in Kona grow to be 50:50. 

We also want to help make this sport more diverse. Thinking about all of this can be overwhelming so we are focusing on one step at a time – so watch this space.

What will be the next stage if Kona agree to open entry up to an extra 15 women?

We will look to continue with the other aspects of our mission statement. I think that will include brain storming over initiatives to increase participation by women in the age group fields. We are already looking at race dynamics and start times. 

After launching TriEqual we were flooded with offers of help. Our list of volunteers is at almost 300 so we will be looking to harness those skills and all that manpower. Basically I think I am saying – watch this space!!

How can people get involved?

TriEqual aims to makes it easy for people to get involved in the cause. There are a number of simple things 220 readers can do: 

– Sharing and supporting the issue on social media channels 
– Sporting 5Q temporary tattoos when racing
– Sending letters to event organisers and sponsors 
– Purchasing and wearing 5Q T-shirts
– You can also go to TriEqual.com and volunteer 

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