An Open Letter

to the South of England Athletic Association (SEAA) asking for gender equality in their events

On behalf of the individuals, clubs and organisations in the South of England area who support gender equality in athletics

November 2019

Dear President, Director of Competition, Officers and Committee of the South of England Athletic Association (SEAA);

 We write to call on you to equalise the Cross Country and Road competitions that SEAA organise where competition is not yet equal for women and men, namely:

  • Southern Cross Country relays – distance not equal for Seniors, U20s and U17s
  • London Cross Country Champs – distance not equal for Women and Men
  • Cross Country Masters Champs – distance not equal for Women and Men
  • Southern Cross Country Main Champs – distance not equal for U15, U17, U20, Seniors
  • Southern 6/4/3 Stage Road Relays – distance not equal for U17, Seniors. Unequal stages
  • Southern 12/6 Stage Road relays – unequal stages and proportion of long/short legs

We write as people who have a deep appreciation for our club running community.  We are and represent runners, volunteers, race organisers, coaches, committee members and supporters.  We understand the effort it takes to organise races and that all changes require time and effort to plan and make work.

However, these events must change. They give a message that races for women and girls aren’t as important, they aren’t as capable and aren’t being welcomed to the event on equal terms.  This is a small thing, but when combined with hundreds of similar small things across our lives they gain the power to place limits on us all – based not on what we are capable of or enjoy, but whether we are female or male.  Our running community has the power to change one of these small things. Our sport loses nothing. It gains by offering a warmer welcome to everyone, and leading the way for other sports and communities to change. Sport has the power to inspire and empower, especially young people.  Our sport should set the right example.

The good news is that we know change is possible.  Many similar events around the country have either been equal for a long time, or have recently equalised.  This is happening fast, soon few will be left to equalise. We aren’t aware of any where numbers have dropped as a direct result or where changes have been met with protest.  The reality is rather dull, people just get on with enjoying the racing and forget it was ever different. Here are just a few examples:

  • Scottish national XC was equalised in the 2016/17 season (12k/8k to 10k), participation continues to rise each year.
  • UKA rule 250 recommends senior distance for XC champs races is approx. 10k
  • County XC champs are now rapidly equalising in line with UKA guidance – Essex, Suffolk, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Oxfordshire, Herts (and probably more) are now equal
  • Liddiard Trophy (incl North of the Thames XC) equalised distances this year for the first time in its 73 year history
  • Road relays in Wales are equal across the board – by distances, number of stages and age categories.  Scotland and Northern Ireland road relay events both race equal distances (but not yet stages).
  • All 5k, 10k, half, marathon etc road races are equal distances
  • SEAA Fell Race champs are fully equal, with all racing 3.8k, 12k and 21k courses.

We have no preference on what race distances should be equalised to.  Organisers are best placed to decide race distance based on the type of competition they want to create and their event programme and venue.

However as senior race distances for the Southern Cross Country main championships are so very different (15k/8k) this is an unusual case where equalising will mean significant change to distance for some and/or significant impact to the event programme.  We understand this makes it hard to agree change. With that in mind we table the following options with the intention of starting discussion:

1)    Equalise both races to something in the middle – e.g. approx. 10k in line with UKA guidance for championship XC races.

2)    Equalise both to 8k

3)    Equalise both to 15k

4)    Keep a 8k and 15k race and alternate these for men/women each year – creating a biannual long and short course champs.

5) Keep a 8k and 15k race and open both races to women and men who can then choose to compete in a long or short course championship.

We would like to request a meeting with SEAA to work constructively on how to go about equalising these events, and to offer our help and full support to this process. 

Yours in sport,
Kelly Clark, Victoria Park Harriers & Tower Hamlets AC
Maud Hodson, East London Runners
Susan Edwards, Woodford Green & Essex Ladies AC

On behalf of the Run Equal campaign and all the clubs and individuals who support gender equality in athletics

Appendix – more detail of the SEAA organised unequal events.

Cross Country relays

Distances unequal for Seniors (5k/3k), U20s (3k/2.5k) and U17s (3k/2.5k). 

Distances are equal for U15 and U13 races. 

Stages are equal for all but Seniors (4 stage/3 stage).

London Cross Country Champs

Approx. 6k for women, 10k for men.  Senior races only.

Cross Country Masters Champs

W40, W50, W60 and M70 run 6k

M40, M50, M60 run 10k

Southern Cross Country Main Champs

Distances unequal for Seniors (15k/8k), U20s (8k/6k), U17s (6k/5k), U15s (4.5k/4k)

Distances are equal for U13 races

Southern 6/4/3 Stage Road Relays

Distances unequal for Seniors & Masters (6.1k/4.8k), U17s (4.8k/3.1k)

Distances are equal for U15 and U13 races. 

Stages unequal for U17, U15, U13 (4 stage/3 stage).

Stages unequal for Seniors (6 stage/4 stage).

Stages are equal for Masters (4 stage)

Southern 12/6 Stage Road relays

Senior men race 12 stages, 6 short (5.1k), 6 long (7.7k)

Senior women race 6 stages, 4 short (5.1k), 2 long (7.7k)