Why isn’t more being said about how the sport of triathlon is so incredibly silent when it comes to addressing the inequities and lack of diversity? Worldwide, BIPOC make up almost 1% of the sport of triathlon. The burden is not on BIPOC to join the sport, but the burden is on the sport of triathlon itself to figure out how it can adapt and attract more diverse athletes.
The sport of triathlon is uniquely American, getting its start in Mission Bay in San Diego in 1974. John and Judy Collins, who moved from California to Hawai’i, wanted to create a competition for endurance athletes. In 1978, the Around the Island Triathlon took place, and the race was 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running with the winner called the Iron Man. IRONMAN gained even more popularity in 1980 when the Wide World of Sports filmed the event. Since that time, the sport of triathlon has grown, but it is still mostly wealthy, older, white men.
I am in a minority in this sport and as a coach since I’m female. Some of my athletes are too, but we’re all still white and participate in much greater numbers than BIPOC. Female participation is at 30% for triathlon and 37% for cycling.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there are organizations for Black athletes, but there are only a few of them. For most women, one of the largest groups is Women for Tri, sponsored by IRONMAN, and it’s the one I’m having the most issues with right now because the moderators are actively silencing posts about Black Lives Matter and other political posts, citing the rules that it’s not “triathlon related”.
Excuse me? How is being a black athlete NOT triathlon related? Black athletes face a whole bunch of issues I don’t even have to think about when I go for a solo run or ride. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while on a run. Black athletes who train solo are not first assumed to be training, but to be up to no good or running away from something. Really. I know athletes who won’t run alone because they have been stopped on their run and asked what they are doing with the white person who stopped them threatening to call the cops. For real. So, to say that being black is NOT triathlon related is racist, and Women for Tri can do so much better than that. But, no. They aren’t. I recently checked in on the group’s page to see a post about “what is the best way to carry a firearm while cycling” (seriously, wtf?). Another post about “how do I look in my swimsuit” (again, how does this advance women’s rights?). Whatever.
The admin just updated to clarify that political posts are not acceptable (or hashing out political discussion will be deleted), which is subtext for: don’t post anything about race or Black Lives Matter. But, carry on about complaining about “Runners’ World” articles and how women are treated in them (how is this not political?). Carry on about which tri kit to purchase (how does this not promote a business?). Carry on about how beautiful your open water swim was (bragging when some of us are still on stay at home orders). But, when you carry on like that you’re leaving behind so many people. You are leaving behind BIPOC athletes, and I’m done with that.
That being said, “Triathlete” Magazine did post an article about how you can help: https://www.triathlete.com/culture/heres-how-you-and-we-can-help-right-now/
That’s a start. I’ve got work to do as a white female athlete and coach. And so do you because if you’re reading this, you’re probably a white person. Let’s change this sport from the inside out.
If you feel the need to get moving as I do because I can’t sit still when there is so much work to do, here’s another way you can support Black Lives Matter by donating $1 for every mile you run, ride, or walk to the NAACP here: https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Anniston/1MillionMilesforJustice?fbclid=IwAR08SLairNfX_4SUrtjyWyPf_NUbi5NBn9ruX130XckYuQY5NgSXHmOfV8A&remMeAttempt=
I put my money where my mouth is and will be donating miles to the NAACP through the Civil Rights Race Series posted above. I am also running a virtual 5K to support LGBTQ+ youth. We need more diversity in triathlon with BIPOC athletes and more LGBTQ+ athletes too. Because only together, we are strong. That’s what the V Formation means. And that’s what I stand for. Always.