Running column: Mark Armstrong discusses whether Norfolk could lead the way on equalising cross-country distances?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:22 07 December 2018
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Could Norfolk lead the way in giving women the chance to race the same cross country distances as men?
I love how inquisitive children are.
Sometimes it can drive you crazy and I’ve even surprised myself a couple of times at how quickly I can think on my feet when my daughter, Lara, asks me a particularly difficult question.
‘Why this…?’, ‘Why that…’ Sometimes she doesn’t have the best of timing and trying to explain to a four-year-old that you have to pick your moments when to ask a question is a waste of time. Asking why she can’t have a jacket potato for her tea tonight just as we are about to leave for school is not perfect timing (we were having cottage pie in case you’re interested)…
But as she grows older the questions are going to get harder and at some point very soon she is going to realise that her mummy and daddy don’t have all the answers.
For example if she asked me ‘why can’t I race at the same distance as the boys at a cross country race?’ I don’t think I could give her a credible answer.
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Traditionally women have raced over shorter distances than men as will be the case when the Norfolk Cross Country Championships take place at the Charles Burrell Centre on Sunday, January 6.
The senior men’s race will be over 10.8km whilst the women’s will be 4.4k shorter at 6.4k.
This makes me feel uncomfortable given the strides that have been made in other sports, including athletics, in terms of equality.
If they so choose, women can race over any distance they like on the road or in ultras but for what appears only ‘traditional reasons’, they aren’t afforded the same privilege in the cross country discipline.
Earlier this year at the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill athletes were invited by the England Cross Country Association (ECAA) to fill out a questionnaire to see if all distances should be equalised.
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However, rather disappointingly, the majority were apparently against this.
“Although those in favour of equi-distance races were strongly so, there was a majority against, and even those in favour could not agree a distance to compete over, though 10K emerged as the preferred distance.
“As a result of discussions both the ECCA Championship Committee and General Committee unanimously decided to keep the championship race distances as 8K for Senior Women and 12K for Senior Men in 2019.”
The ECAA said they were worried that participation levels would drop in the Women’s Championship if they equalised the distances despite the fact Scotland equalised distances two years ago without affecting numbers.
The ECAA insisted they would continue to monitor the situation but I don’t know many women who would take kindly to being told they aren’t allowed to compete in a certain race just because they are a woman.
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Fortunately it is something that the chairman of Athletics Norfolk, Clive Poyner, is open minded about.
City of Norwich AC athlete Dani Nimmock has been invited to compete in the men’s race next month after voicing her frustration at having to compete over the shorter distance. If this year’s Greater Manchester Marathon winner takes up the offer then you wouldn’t back against her making the top 10.
I hope it proves a success and that we can work towards equalisation across all events, at least here in Norfolk, although I understand the logistical challenges this could create.
Longer distances mean longer races whilst more events would need more volunteers and marshals. It’s not as simple as saying ‘well, we’ll just put on a separate women’s race’. A dedicated cross-country co-ordinator would need to be sourced to bring it all together and it remains to be seen if anyone comes forward.
But it would be nice if Nimmock’s participation highlights the oft quoted mantra ‘This Girl Can’ because I want my daughter to have the same opportunities as anyone, regardless of their gender.
It might save me answering one fewer awkward question as well…