An Open Letter to the IAAF

27 Sep

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.

Katie Key

Are you a male or female runner? How does this ruling make YOU feel? Do you think they will ever overturn it?

13 Responses to “An Open Letter to the IAAF”

  1. Heidi at 9:28 AM #

    Oooh. Thanks for saying EVERYTHING I thought when I read about the rule change. It’s so stupid and makes me so angry. Honestly without pacing with faster people, I would have never gotten faster. It causes you to push yourself further than you’ve done before but the bottom line is the fact that you still ran the race. You didn’t roller skate or hop on a bike, even if you are pacing with someone, you are still running on your own. I also can’t believe it’s retroactive, what an awful thing to do to every woman who worked so hard. This just further discourages women from running and competing, when they should be doing just the opposite.

  2. Sarah@100CalsPerMile at 9:37 AM #

    And this is exactly why I’m a big fan of women’s races. Despite making up half the field, women are still second class citizens. We pay the same registration fee for shirts we can’t wear and now can’t celebrate a clean win. Unbelievable.

  3. Lindsey deBlieux at 10:10 AM #

    Wow, Katie… The photos in your post got me wondering so I started looking for them. I found Bobbie Gibbs ‘and Katherine Switzer’s stories. I am AMAZED that just 45 years ago people thought that women weren’t built for long-distance running. I suppose that the IAAF expects women to go back to sneaking into races they aren’t “supposed” to be running. I call bull.

    • katieRUNSthis at 10:16 AM #

      Yeah, even as recently as the early 1980’s women were told their uteruses would fall out if they ran too long of distances. Isn’t that so insane!? Bull, indeed!

  4. Running Jennie at 11:15 AM #

    Well said.

    A local running coach here said they need to get back to the basic – “two legs, same distance, fastest wins”.

  5. ~K~ at 12:04 PM #

    you said it perfectly!

  6. Can I be blunt? The ruling is bullshit and makes me really angry. Not only does it limit the races in which women can set records, it’s just plain dumb. Everyone races better when they pace with or race against someone faster than them. Women, men… anyone.

  7. Wow, this is really unbelievable and you covered it perfectly in your letter. It’s embarrassing that in today’s society there is such a regression in equality with this ruling – whether it’s among gender, race, age, or anything else. I can’t imagine it will stick, I certainly hope not!

  8. David H. at 7:47 PM #

    Well said!

  9. Jamie at 8:57 PM #

    Talk about unjust!! This is ridiculous! What even gave them the idea to do this? So annoyed I can’t come up with a better argument than “this is stupid.”

  10. chad at 9:51 AM #

    Let each event dictate how they wish to score…..women men boys girls old young….they will more than likely continue to do so. I think the ruling will only be applied to world records at specific distances….true equality in a mixed event will only list order of finish without gender or age. Women do not race against men in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 1500 meters, 5000meters(5K), 10000 meters(10K)……they are sanctioning world records in a key word… races…. not events. Run the marathon on the track with seperate genders for world records. BTW the worlds greatest long distance runner in an ultra event is a woman….a 3100 mile race held every year.

  11. chad at 9:59 AM #

    I also think an asterisk could be appropriate for previous world bests at marathon distance…. Boston, new york will probably keep mixed events with mixed scoring … so what is the big deal!!!!!!! ************

  12. Rivers Hughey at 4:06 PM #

    This…infuriates me.

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