Triathlon, like nearly every sport, is a world where your performance has always been the main way that you relate to your fellow athletes. It’s about who’s faster or stronger, and in an ideal world those should be the only things that matter.
But as triathlon has grown as a participation sport it has intersected with the ways themselves beyond sport and the challenges that different groups face in modern British society.
In order to continue to receive lottery funding, British Triathlon has started to collect ED&I (equality, diversity and inclusion) data on its members, which has enabled them to identify groups that are currently underserved by the sport.
One of the main groups identified as under-represented were BME (Black and ethnic minority) people. It didn’t surprise me. After nine years of training and racing, my, admittedly anecdotal, evidence is that triathlon is a very white sport. I remember attending the age-group team briefing at Weert in 2019 and, of the couple of hundred athletes in the room, I could count the number of BME people on one hand.
Why network groups are vital
Diversity in triathlon is a cause that I have been particularly involved in since 2018. As a gay man I have been well aware of the ways that I am different from my heterosexual peers and, although I am sure it was unintentional, there have been times where I have consequently felt like an outsider.
In 2018, World Triathlon attempted to ban the rainbow flag from events. I wouldn’t want to speculate on why the global governing body thought this was a good idea (supposedly to “protect athletes from demonstrations against them”), but at the very least it demonstrates that there is little consideration of how certain decisions may affect groups that have different needs to the majority.
World Triathlon backed down from the rainbow flag ban After a few days following negative press coverage. This was only possible because British Triathlon had posted in the British Triathlon LGBTQ+ Network Facebook group to let us know that this was coming and to ask for our views.
If it wasn’t for that network (that had been set up by British Triathlon a year or so beforehand) it’s likely that the ban would have come into effect and individual LGBTQ+ triathletes would have had to accept it, with no route to appeal.
The LGBTQ+ Network has also helped with athletes’ views on the 2022 age-group world championships being held in the UAE, where being LGBTQ+ is illegal. I and other athletes didn’t want to compete in a country where we might face arrest simply for existing.
Via the Network, we were able to raise our concerns to the British Triathlon, including in a discussion with Andy Salmon, the CEO. As a result, we were able to defer our places to next year rather than miss out entirely.
The issues discussed above are ones which only affected a minority of triathletes. If the governing bodies were only concerned about issues that impacted the majority, it’s likely that no resolutions would have been found in these instances and the sport would have become a worse, less accepting place for it.