UK Athletics is working towards equal distances for men and women in the Cross Challenge series, however, survey results say the majority of female cross country runners do not want changes at the English Nationals.
With Scottish Athletics putting in place equal distances for all age groups in its championships and the IAAF equalising the senior races at the World Cross Country Championships in 2017, there have been widespread calls in recent months for parity in England and across the UK.
Following a recent meeting between campaigners and UK Athletics Chairman Richard Bowker and Director of Strategy Nigel Holl, progress appears to have been made with the sports governing body now working towards equalising the distances in the British Athletics Cross Challenge series.
Maud Hodson, who has been leading a campaign for equal cross country distances in England, attended the recent meeting with UKA and said: “UKA are now working towards greater gender equality in cross country running. They are keen to take a consensual approach, listening to any interested parties.
“They will work towards equalising the distances at the Cross Challenge series, which they organise themselves, with the proviso that the event that serves as the trials for the European Championships is likely to remain as is for now. But they also plan to encourage European Athletics to follow the IAAF’s lead.
“Equalisation of XC distances is on the UKA agenda and will be raised as agenda items at relevant committees. Nigel [Holl] will report back to us as these discussions develop ahead of the 2018-19 season.”
This is a step forward by UK Athletics and has been warmly welcomed by campaigners.
However, in contrast, the results of a recent survey by the English Cross Country Association, say the majority do not want the same distance for the senior men and women’s races at the English National Championships.
In total 244 took part in the survey at last month’s English Nationals at Parliament Hill, despite there being well over 3000 runners across the senior men’s and women’s races.
Of those who did participate, 52% responded with ‘No’ when asked if senior men and women should run the same distance at the English Nationals. This was made up of 67% female responders and 33% males.
“Although I wasn’t there myself (on principle), I heard the distribution was pretty random and chaotic, plus many runners were unaware of it,” said Hodson. “I wasn’t too surprised about the number of women voting against equality – to my mind that is largely down to conditioning.
“And of course, by only asking those runners who are happy to take part in events where the distances are not equal, they won’t be hearing the opinions of runners like myself, who have chosen not to take part for that very reason.”
Of those who did answer ‘Yes’ to equaling the male and female distances, they were then asked what common distance do you think men and women should run?
Women overwhelming agreed on 10k with 76% favouring this distance, with 9% stating they did not mind as long as it was equal with their male counterparts.
In comparison, the men favoured their existing distance, with 41% opting for 12k, while 35% voted for 10k.
East London Runners’ Hodson, who launched an online petition in January calling for equal distances, is also involved with the Essex County Athletics Association, who voted recently to equalise the distances for their cross country championships.
“We will make every effort to ensure that the Essex Senior Champs is a resounding success in order to encourage other counties to follow suit,” said Hodson. “It is likely that the 2018/19 XC season will include a number of equalised events, with more to follow in 2019/20.”
So while there may be mixed messages from the English Cross Country Association survey, it would appear as a whole cross country in the UK is moving forward with changes.