With all the buzz about #50womentokona I found a recent blog post by Kelly D. O’ Mara interesting. Kelly argued that the fight for #50womentokona is not worth having because is so obvious that there should be equality at the Ironman World Championships:
I’m having a hard time getting outraged, because it’s an obvious fight. It’d be like if a company told you that only people whose eyes were blue got to do this race. You’d know that was dumb. Clearly, people with brown eyes can race too, but there’s not much point in arguing with that. Instead, you’d just start to question other things about that company, start to wonder who was running things around here and what are they thinking.
Kelly’s post got me thinking — WHY — Why is this a fight Ironman wants to have when it is so easy to fix?
In this situation I think its useful to look at another Ironman public relations debacle — the Ironman Access Program. Back in 2010, Ironman made an announcement that for $1000 athletes could purchase an annual “membership” that would allow them to register for Ironman events one week before they opened to the public. The program allowed individuals who were willing to pay a premium a place at the head of the registration line without having to be on-site (they still had to pay the registration fee in addition to the $1000). The response to the program from the triathlon public was very negative. People took to FaceBook and to forums on Slowtwitch.com and Beginnertriathlete.com to voice their opposition. Based on a single day (24 hours) of opposition, Ironman rescinded the program. As Slowtwitch reported:
Once WTC understood the ardency, and near unanimity, of the negative response, it did not try to explain or frame the program. It simply canceled the program, unwound it entirely, and refunded money to enrollees. WTC took a further extraordinary step of releasing a video of Fertic apologizing and explaining the mistake. “If you guys think we’re wrong, then we’re wrong . . .“
Ben Fertic, CEO of Ironman at the time, even made an apology video (I would post the apology video but it has been removed from the database of Ironman Press Releases). Based on reports from the time Fertic stated:
“We are listening . . . We’re sorry that we disappointed you.”
One day of “outrage” from the internet (according to Slowtwitch the thread about the Ironman Access Program contain a whopping 250 posts) and Ironman rescinds the program, the CEO offers a mea culpa and publicly apologizes.
Fast forward 5 years to #50womentokona. Over the past few months there have been THOUSANDS of tweets, FaceBook posts and forum threads concerning equality at the Ironman World Championships. Hundreds of industry stakeholders have signed on to the public letter requesting equality. Many, many, many professional triathletes have come out in support of equality including multiple world champions and Ironman champions. The #50womentokona Face Book Page has more likes (3,348) in only 5 days than the Ironman “Women for Tri” Face Book group (3,050). Yet the response from Ironman is utter and complete silence. I know Ironman has been accused of being overly corporate and heartless for quite a while but what really floors me is the difference in how Ironman handled the public response to the Ironman Access program versus how it is responding to #50womentokona. I can’t answer the question why Ironman is responding this way, but I think its one we need to keep asking.