Alberta athletics association almost creates parity for female, male runners

The Alberta Schools Athletics Association (ASAA) stepped toward gender equity in cross-country running this past weekend — sort of.

Boys and girls in cross-country running run the same distances in intermediate, junior levels — but not senior

Runners take off from the start of their race in St. John's, N.L. Both boys and girls will cross-country run the same distances except for one category in Alberta. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The Alberta Schools Athletics Association (ASAA) stepped toward gender equity in cross-country running this past weekend — sort of.

Female runners are now running the same distances as their male counterparts in two of three age groups in Alberta's high schools.

Runners in the three groups — intermediate, junior and senior — run different distances depending on the group they were in. For girls, the cross-country distances were three kilometres for intermediate and four kilometres for both junior and senior.

For boys, the distances were four kilometres for intermediate, five for junior and six for senior.

The girls' distances have all since been moved up one kilometre in a vote, leaving the senior level with a one-kilometre discrepancy.

John Paton, the executive director of ASAA, said they didn't make the two-kilometre jump primarily because voting members worried it would decrease participation.

"We would potentially lose senior girls from taking part in cross-country running because of the increase in distance," Paton said Monday.

"[The voting members] just felt that jumping one kilometre was bearable and controversial potentially, but moving it up by two kilometres, they just didn't feel like it was the right time to do that."

'A little archaic'

Ryan Dunkley, a teacher at M.E. Lazerte High School in Edmonton, has two daughters who run cross-country.

When he told them about the history of the differences in running, they weren't happy.

"My one daughter, she's quite spicy, she said, 'Well, that's not fair, dad. I can run with the boys any day,' " Dunkley told CBC's Edmonton AM Monday.

"I thought it sounded a little archaic, to tell you the truth."

Dunkley doesn't buy the lack of participation idea and said that girls aren't going to be intimidated by an extra 1,000 metres.

The lack of parity still exists in the university level — the most recent U Sports cross-country running national championship had women run eight kilometres and men run 10 kilometres.

But Paton said there's growing support for parity in all levels of cross-country running, including shifts in Ontario and Quebec.

Dunkley said the system currently in place is likely derived from "an old, sexist approach."

"Some of the girls posted better times than some of the boys at the same age level," he said. "Our ladies deserve everything the men get."

The last U Sports cross-country running championships had women running eight kilometres and men running 10. (laurentian.ca)

The idea of moving girls up to the boys' distance in the senior level would make sense, considering the increase of two kilometres if they moved on to university-level sports.

But Paton said he's not sure that's a high school's purpose.

"Is it to prepare kids for university [sports] or to provide a great opportunity for kids to be a part of their school team?" he said.

ASAA will likely look at moving the distance up again, Paton said, but not for a little while. "We'll probably monitor what's happening at the senior girls' level before we decide if we'll increase it another kilometre," he said.

"That's the last thing we want to do is to lose kids from running."