By Mitch Phillips
World Athletics (WA) is marking the March 8 International Women’s Day with a new series of pledges aimed at increasing female participation on the field of play but also among coaches, officials and administrators up to the highest level.
Among the pledges announced by the governing body under the banner #WeGrowAthletics are plans to ensure gender equality in remuneration, gather “inspirational stories” from women athletes and ensure member federations have safeguarding policies in place by 2023.
Athletics has already taken steps to change some long-ingrained biases in the sport and will finish this year’s world championships hosted by Eugene in the United States with the women’s 4x400m relay instead of the traditional men’s version.
“We are proud to be taking an active role once again in supporting International Women’s Day by committing to a number of new and impactful pledges aimed at further achieving gender parity in our sport,” said WA president Sebastian Coe.
“Reaching gender equality requires deliberate and ongoing effort at all levels of athletics – from the governing bodies down to the local clubs.
“World Athletics has long been a leader in promoting gender equality and, while we dedicate this week to showcasing our various initiatives and celebrating the inspiring female role models in our sport, it is important that we dedicate the same enthusiasm towards gender equality every other day of the year as well.
“We know that actions speak louder than words, and I am proud to say that World Athletics has either implemented or put into action every single pledge that we made last year.”
Since his election in 2015 Coe has overseen something of a revolution in terms of female representation in the governance of the sport, which is committed to a 50-50 balance in its rule-making Council by 2027.
On the field of play, Coe said WA recognizes the need to create more female role models and that it is continually working to deal with the problem that affects almost all sport – participants leaving in their late teens, particularly on the female side.
“Retention is the Holy Grail in so many sports,” Coe told a news conference.
“The biggest attrition in our sport is between the ages of 18 and 21 and any coach will tell you their toughest challenge is to take a good athlete from the upper echelons of the junior ranks into the senior ranks.
“The majority of athletes that win world junior championships medals don’t go on to compete individually for their nation as a senior. They can’t all be Usain Bolt, but they’re not even staying engaged – for all sorts of reasons.”
Coe said WA’s gender leadership Task Force is trying to work out what can be done to stop that talent drain.
“It’s partly educational, some of it is peer pressure and sometimes it’s that time commitment,” he added. “It’s a real challenge.”