When discussing #50WomentoKona, the most frequent argument I hear about why the current system is fair is that the slot allocation to professional triathletes is proportional. First, lets be clear fairness can be subjective but equality is objective; the current system may be fair in the opinion of some but it is not equal. With that said, I want to address this argument but a few caveats:
- Proportional representation is not fair at the highest level of any sport. We’re talking about professional athletes, not amateurs. When triathlon is your profession, both men and women should be given equal opportunity to race in Kona or at the 70.3 World Championships and to obtain the pecuniary benefits that go with qualifying for a world championship.
- There is no mechanism for increasing the number of professional female triathletes in Kona. Many proponents of proportional representation argue that as the number of professional female triathletes grows, so will the number of slots available to professional female triathletes. This is not true. While Andrew Messick argues that representation today is “roughly proportional,” slot allocation is not directly based on proportionality and there is no mechanism to increase the number of slots if suddenly the number of female professionals increases. Arguing that increased participation will lead to an increased number of slots for female professionals has no basis in fact, does not reflect the current qualification system and no commitment to proportionality has been made by anyone at WTC. In fact, the only comment WTC has made about slot allocation is through an authorless article that was silently released.
- Males chose to take elite cards more often than females — Why? Male and female triathletes have equal opportunity to take elite cards from USAT, yet more males take their elite cards than females. There are many reasons why female triathletes are choosing to remain age groupers rather than accepting their elite cards. One of those reasons is lack of opportunity. Many females triathletes who want to return to Kona and race on the Big Island remain age groupers because they know they have a better chance of qualifying as age groupers due to lack of opportunity on the professional level.
- No current system for qualification is truly proportional. While we are discussing professionals, and not age groupers, it bears noting that the system for age grouper qualification is not truly proportional. There is massive over representation of age groups at the far ends of the bell curve (the very young and very old age groups) and this distortion is amplified as the number of slots per race deceases (look at the distribution of slots at Ironman Taiwan where only 25 slots were available).
Having said all that, if you still want to argue proportional representation, my question for you is:
Where do you draw the line?
Opponents of equality at Kona argue that to determine proportional representation you should take the total number of pros who have accepted an elite card or the total number of pros on the Kona Points Ranking (“KPR”) list. Both of these methods ignore the fact that there is a difference between individuals who hold an elite card and professional triathletes.
People (both males and females) accept elite cards for all sorts of reasons including racing against the best in the world, bragging rights, boosting a triathlon-related business or simply being able to race any WTC event other than Kona for a one time flat fee. There is nothing wrong with this but not all holders of elite cards have aspirations to race in Kona. In fact, many of the individuals on the KPR list have only raced a single race during the season (20% of the male professional triathletes athletes and 15% of the female professional athletes). Perhaps these individuals are injured, are short course athletes or just want to try a WTC event as a one – off.
That being said the “long tail” of both male and female triathletes holding elite cards distorts any analysis of proportionality that leverages the entire KPR list. Below is a graph nicely illustrating the long tail.
Here’s a table showing the number of male and female triathletes holding elite cards at various numbers of KPR points (note — this information is from the final 2014 KPR data, the last full year available).
Now the question is — where to draw the line? Opponents of equality are correct that at 1 KPR point male triathletes holding elite cards represent 65% of the total and females holding elite cards represent 35% of the total. If we were to draw the line at 135 KPR points, the lowest possible number of KPR points a person can have and still have collected a paycheck from WTC (there’s a $500 payout for 6th place at certain P-500 70.3 events), the ratio is 42% female and 58% male. At 3915 (the number of KPR Points the 50th place male had in 2014) the numbers shift to 48% female and 52% male. In fact, as demonstrated by the chart below at 5050 KPR points, women proportionally outnumber men.
So what does this all mean? Really, nothing. While numbers may not lie, the people who select and manipulate them can certainly create varying impressions based on their presentations. You can find numbers to justify anything. Proportionality is nothing more than a diversionary tactic being used to retroactively justify a discriminatory policy. If you believe in equality, you believe in #50WomentoKona.