Last week, Ironman and Lifetime Tri announced their new “Women for Tri” initiative. It’s not super clear what this initiative is other than some kind of program to increase women’s participation in triathlon, presumably to increase their participation in Ironman and Lifetime brand triathlons specifically. Oh, and “empower female athletes.” Naturally.
The application for the Board of Advisors says that those selected will help develop a five-year strategic plan, champion the Women for Tri organization (which apparently will be an organization separate from Lifetime or Ironman, or within the two companies?), and personally actively work to fulfill the mission of: “breaking down barriers to entry by providing greater access to education and relevant content and by cultivating a networked community of female athletes.”
You can also apply to be a “street team ambassador” for this initiative.
Look. If a company wants to ask women to help them better market to women, that’s their prerogative. And, I have nothing wrong with more women doing triathlon.
But, I’m not sure triathlon has a woman problem. According to USA Triathlon, 36.5 percent of people doing triathlons are now women, even with the sports’ massive growth recently. That number has gone nothing but up in the last 15 years. The sport, historically, has been one of the few that pays men and women equally, and that treats them equally — with the obvious notable exception in recent years coming from Ironman. Some of the biggest stars have been women. And, women have always been made to feel welcome at every level. Sure, 36.5 percent isn’t 50 percent, but so what? Just because there are more men doing triathlon, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that. If there were less men doing triathlon and participation was split evenly, would that be better?
(Yes, there are women-specific training groups that attempt to alleviate some of the fears women have about training with men. And, yes, there are mental barriers women often have to believing they can’t do triathlon. But, I don’t think these are systemic to the sport. Nor do I think that they’re necessarily unique to women and not to beginners generally, or that they’re not self-resolving.)
Some people appear to be applying to the Women for Tri board because they want to address female equality as a whole across the sport, and talk about women’s treatment at the pro level. And, I completely get why you would want to be involved with two of the biggest race brands in the sport as they address ‘women’s issues.’ But, I don’t think that’s what this is going to be about.
The only thing we know about this initiative is that it’s about increasing women’s participation in triathlon, and attracting women to the sport — either through any actual plans or through a pink-washing of sorts. Women’s participation has already fueled the running boom and funded countless new women’s athletic brands. Women, if you can win them over, are willing to spend money. Why not on triathlon?
I don’t have a problem with Ironman as a company. They put on good events and people have the option of doing those events or not. What I do have a problem with is when we pretend they’re not a company owned by a private equity firm intent on hitting full market saturation. Finding ways to bring more women into the sport isn’t about triathlon; it’s about selling to an untapped market.
Of course, these companies have the right to try to grow their business. I just am not 100 percent sure why I should help them do it for free.