|Hey Vees & Supporters,
In case you weren't aware, there's a controversy going
on within the CIS XC community.
For background, a CIS coach firmly believes that men and
women at the CIS level should race the same distance. Sounds
good on the surface, but there are many shades of grey here,
including the fact that the women in the OUA, according
to a 2014 poll that we conducted, don't want to increase
their race distance and don't care about what the men do.
There are many other issues involved. You can read my article
below to see what they are.
The coach driving this issue lost his motion at the CIS
meeting to make the race distances equal for men and women
(it was a flawed motion that proposed 8km distances for
both, but in fact would have had women racing 10k next year).
However, he tied his motion to a statement about women's
equality that has everybody up in arms because we turned
it down...even though we had to reject the motion or have
our women race 10k next year (by the way, two of the coaches
who voted against the motion are women).
The coach has refused to accept this decision. Instead,
he has hammered away on the message boards, contacted the
mainstream media and stated publicly that his goal is to
"shame" the coaches publicly to the point that
our athletic directors and school presidents overrule our
decision this year.
The issue has gone to a different level and "alleged
coaches quotes" from an anonymous source at our CIS
meeting are now being reported in the online edition of
Canadian Runner magazine (terribly poor journalism).
Here's the article:
Here's a previous article:
This issue is also being driven by a message board thread,
and Twitter comments calling us sexist pigs, dinosaurs,
Aside from speaking out at the meeting, I've stayed out
of this (I don't have the time for it), but I've now been
named and incomplete/incorrect information is being published
about my position on this. So, I've had enough. I've just
sent the following response to the Canadian Running Magazine
online editor. It states much of my position. Many of the
coaches who voted against the motion share some of these
To Sinead Mulhern, ( web editor at Canadian Running)
I see that "alleged" coaches' quotes from the
recent CIS cross-country meeting have been published in
your web edition. These comments, from an “anonymous
source,” are not complete and do not convey my complete
position, nor, might I add, the complete position of most
of the coaches involved.
So, here’s my position on the women’s race
distance issue. Much of this was discussed in the CIS meeting,
although your confidential source did not report it all.
I trust you will post this in the name of fairness.
First of all, I don’t believe there’s a coach
in the CIS who is sexist. Personally I’ve worked with
female athletes for 30 years and know they’re every
bit as tough and capable as male runners (in many cases,
more so). And of course, I know that female runners can
race 10k or longer. I don’t know a single CIS coach
who feels differently.
The question isn’t “can” they: it’s
should they, do they want to, do they care what the guys
do, and what will be the effects on the league if they do.
In this discussion, there are divergent opinions about
what “equality” truly means, what the optimal
distance is for women’s participation and development,
and what effects a change will have on the teams in the
CIS. I’ll explain further.
I believe that equality for women runners doesn’t
necessarily mean being identical to the men. I believe it
means having the right to be different if that’s what’s
best. In our case, it may not be ideal for CIS women to
race the 10k just because the men do it. For example, there
are different opinions about whether the 10km is an optimal
distance for male runners, especially those coming out of
Female Athlete Input - The OUA Poll
The OUA coaches have already discussed the race distance
issue and in 2014 conducted a poll of our female athletes.
In response to the poll, 152 athletes replied for an 80%
response rate, which is a significant sample size. The results
indicated the following:
1. Female runners in the OUA don’t care what distance
the guys are doing and don’t feel their race distance
has to be the same as the men’s.
2. The optimal race distance is 6km: 68% felt the distance
should be 6km or shorter, 29% wanted the 8km distance and
only 12% wanted to race 10km.
3. 21% of the respondents would drop out of cross-country
if the race distance were increased to 8k or 10k.
4. Over 70% of our cross-country runners also race indoor
I should mention that I conducted an informal survey with
my own athletes and alumni (and repeated it with my athletes
at the CIS championships). The results were similar. Quite
telling was a runner who personally preferred the 10km but
voted for the 6km because she felt it was better for the
While this poll was not conducted CIS-wide, it does indicate
the feelings of the athletes within our conference and I
feel obligated to represent their opinion. These women are
not beginners. They are confident, intelligent, experienced
athletes, some of whom have five years of collegiate running
under their belt. Who better to listen to when deciding
on race distances?
I strongly believe that the female athletes who will live
with our decisions deserve to have their voices heard. And
I find it ironic that those coaches who’ve taken our
women runners’ opinions into consideration are being
labelled “sexist pigs” for doing so.
The IAAF and FISU
A trigger for this push for identical race distances is
that the IAAF XC championships will now feature10k race
distances for both men and women. However, I don’t
believe that IAAF distances should be our focus when designing
women’s CIS running. In fact, very few of our athletes
will immediately participate on one of those teams (only
one competed in the World Senior championships last year).
While there are many exceptions, our World XC athletes tend
to be post-collegians with extensive experience. For example,
the Canadian women’s team’s finishers from last
year were 34, 29, 27, 26 and 23 years of age. Plus, that
race takes place only once every two years. Should our entire
system be devoted to producing athletes for this competition?
Actually, our athletes tend to have a greater presence
at the FISU XC championships (World University Championships).
The distance run at that competition is 6km, not 10km.
However, I don’t think FISU should be our primary
focus either. I believe we should design a system that allows
for maximum participation among university women while still
allowing our elite runners to develop. I believe the 6km
or 8km distances do that.You also have to remember, that
the CIS XC season is only two months long and CIS runners
needing to race 10km for a World Championship in March have
ample time adapt their training to accommodate.
Most of the athletes in the CIS begin running at the age
of 17-18 and graduate by the time they are 22 years of age.
That makes them Junior or Espoir athletes, not true Seniors.
There are different philosophies about developing athletes
through the Junior/Espoir years. Some believe that a steady
diet of 10km-based training is optimal for both middle distance
and distance runners. Some believe that it’s better
to maintain faster running speeds while young, and move
to 10k-based training later. Both are valid but neither
system is best for every runner!! My personal preference,
with the type of athlete with whom I typically work, is
the former. Other coaches might have a different athlete
population and prefer the opposite.
However, these are matters of coaching philosophy, not
human rights issues.
I believe that an increase to 10km would reduce our XC numbers
and would make it difficult for some teams to field a full
squad. Why? Certainly, the OUA poll indicated that it would
happen. But also, because the jump from high school distances
to 10k is large and some runners will have to sit out a
year while increasing their mileage levels; a high percentage
of our XC runners are track athletes; and it’s just
not as much fun to be on the course for 35+ minutes with
a strung-out field. These aren’t philosophical questions
about equity, they are reality. The reality is that there
won’t be a huge infusion of 10k type runners if we
switch to a 10k race distance. The 10k type runners are
already on our squads. What will happen is that our faster-twitch
runners will drop out. While the OUA poll might be a slight
exaggeration, it indicates that as many as 21% will quit
XC if the race distance was increased. Some teams can’t
In contrast, the 6km or 8km should maintain current participation.
At this point, cross-country in the CIS is thriving. Why
mess with it?
We have to remember that 95% of our CIS athletes will not
make an IAAF national team (that’s a guess - it might
be even lower). For most of our runners, university competition
is the pinnacle of their career. After their eligibility
is completed, they will go on to graduate school, careers,
and paying off their student debt. Many will keep running,
but not at a highly competitive level. I believe our responsibility
is to provide the majority of our athletes with a good experience
while still allowing the elites to develop. I believe the
6km or 8km distances do that for both populations.
Personal Opinion & My Vote
I believe either the 6km or 8km can do a good job of developing
athletes for higher levels of competition. The 10k can do
the same, but the side-effect of moving to the 10k will
be a reduction in participation and the possibility that
some schools will be unable to field a full team.
As I mentioned in the meeting, I don’t mind the 8km,
but I would currently vote for the 6km because that’s
the distance that’s preferred by the majority of my
own female athletes and those in the OUA. I believe female
athletes should have a say in determining their own system
- to me, that’s a better signal of equality than simply
copying what the men do.
For the motion in questions, voting for the 8km was not
actually possible. I voted “against” the motion
because it would have automatically forced our women to
run 10k next year. Also, because I believe that our female
athletes shouldn’t be tied to the men’s distance
if they feel that distance isn’t optimal.
I also believe that the point about “what distances
would we choose if we were starting from scratch,”
should be amended to “what distances would women choose
if they were starting from scratch…regardless of the
men’s distances.” It might very well be 6km.
Dick Moss, Head Coach, Laurentian XC/Track
P.S. Many of the views expressed in Lauren Fleshman’s
blog article on this subject align with my own: http://bit.ly/1PTUysE
I'm writing this to keep you informed, not to solicit comments,
but if you'd like to weigh in on the issue, feel free.
Dick Moss email@example.com