Gender Inequality in Cross-Country Running

When I was 6, I went to my first ever Arsenal match with my Dad. I can remember the day SO clearly, partly because my Dad covered my ears throughout to block out any “rude words” shouted by other fans, but also because this is the first time that I was exposed to any form of gender gap.

I struggled to concentrate on the game as I was too busy asking questions about Arsenal Ladies FC;

“Can we go and watch the ladies next time?”

“Why have I never seen Arsenal Ladies on tv?”

“But WHYYYYY does nobody go and watch the ladies?!”

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that at the time I didn’t really understand and proceeded to sulk the whole way home. Twenty years later, I felt a similar sense of sadness upon discovering that women’s races are often significantly shorter than men’s at cross country events. *

In January this year, I along with 3000 others signed a petition calling for equal distances among men and woman. I’m unsure as to what (if any) steps have been taken since the petition was put into action, although a bit of Googling has resulted in a very vague update that UK Athletics is working towards equal distances.

I want to make it clear that I am a HUGE fan of cross-country. I love that it’s not elitist, I love the general excitement/team spirit/build up, and most of all I love running through the mud and sludge. I am getting mini palpitations of excitement just writing this!

However, the unequal distances baffle me. I have questioned this matter many times and am always greeted with a response along the lines of “well, it’s a very traditional sport.” I’ve also been informed that a lot of male runners would prefer a shorter distance… no comment.

There is no logical reason that I can think of that justifies this discrepancy, and quite frankly it worries me that 6-year-old Mell watching the football feels the same as 27-year-old Mell running cross-country.

*This post focuses specifically on cross-country running in England. In Scotland and the World Cross Country Championships, equal distances have been implemented. 

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