Edmonton woman told sports bra inappropriate for city recreation centre

Coral Wiebe had just finished a two-hour run on the treadmill at the Meadows Community Recreation Centre when a staff member approached her. The woman told Wiebe the sports bra she was wearing was inappropriate for the facility. Wiebe was stunned.

'(It's not OK) for staff to be trained to go up to women ... and tell them they have to cover up or leave'

Coral Wiebe said she was told to "cover up" after finishing a run at the Meadows Recreation Centre in a sports bra. (CBC)

Coral Wiebe had just finished a two-hour treadmill run at the Meadows Community Recreation Centre when a staff member approached her.

"The woman said walking around in a sports bra is not acceptable, and we have a policy on that."

Wiebe was stunned. A long-time runner and frequent visitor to city recreation facilities, she was dressed in her typical workout attire: a grey sports bra and a pair of capri running tights. She had taken off her tank top while running but had put it back on by the time the staff member spoke to her.

"I was shocked. And then I was angry. I felt like we had just taken a step back, like, 50 years. I thought the whole idea was to stop objectifying women."
Coral Wiebe in the sports gear she was wearing when staff at a city recreation facility told her the attire was "inappropriate" for the facility. (CBC)

The encounter at the south-side rec centre turned into an extended conversation with city staff, and Wiebe remains unsettled by the message she has heard. On various occasions, she said she has been told the policy is about maintaining a family friendly environment, respecting the cultural values of all gym members, and safety.

None of those reasons sit well with Wiebe.

"I feel like I can be a responsible person and dress myself appropriately for the gym," she said. "I don't need it mandated. I don't think I need a policy to tell me how to dress.

"I don't think it's OK for staff to be trained to go up to women at the gym and tell them they have to cover up or leave."

Fitness centre guidelines on the City of Edmonton website state that "appropriate, clean attire and indoor closed toe footwear is mandatory" and that "clean, dry and appropriate apparel must be worn at all times."

In an email to CBC, a city spokesman said those guidelines are "currently interpreted" to mean that men must always wear shirts, that women and men must cover their midriffs and that closed-toe shoes are required.

What about pro athletes?

Wiebe, 42, has been an avid runner for about 15 years and has been competing  since 2007. She has competed in races such as the Blackfoot Ultra Marathon, the Death Race and various triathlons.

She said her outfit was within the realm of normal attire for any of those events. She said she has worn the same outfit to that gym many times and wonders what the policy means for track runners who train at the Kinsmen Sports Centre, or the volleyball teams, or marathoners.

Wiebe has three children, including a young daughter. She said she feels a responsibility to bring the issue forward, and younger women might not have the same confidence to speak out against such a policy.

The city did not respond to requests for an interview, but a spokesman said apparel policies have long been in place. Wiebe said she was told several times the policy direction is new and city staff were being trained to enforce it at gyms across the city.

Wiebe wants the city to "remove themselves from that whole issue."

Asked whether men should be prohibited from going shirtless or wearing revealing shorts, Wiebe said it's easy to pose questions about "worst-case scenarios."

"I've been going to the gym for decades and I've never seen a guy walk in in a Speedo, never seen a woman walk in in something inappropriate, either," she said. "We can all do what we need to do to work out and go home."