An Open Letter to the CIS

10k versus 6k. What’s the right distance to run for cross-country championships at the CIS? I’m not
u_sports_logo_1going to pretend to know! However, I did offer the following letter to the CIS and Conference Partners regarding the topic of sex-equity. Below I paste what I sent the group the week of November 7th.

Before I paste the letter I need to offer the following apologies and clarifications:

  1. I am not arguing for equity in the races, although that could be the correct outcome. I am asking to do what is right in terms of looking at the races holistically; instead of in isolation look at the entirety of the cross-country process, part of a pathway from high school to elite, and not as a single race but as part of a training program.
  2. On the topic of the above, why are we only talking about the women’s race? If the men’s IAAF distance is now 10k, does it not make sense to ask the men if they want a change in their distance?
  3. I want to apologize to Athletics Canada (AC). In the letter, which I had cc’d AC, I ask for the athletes to be surveyed about what they want. I should have said, ‘as AC did following the cross-country national championships in 2015.’ I want thank AC for surveying the athletes and coaches to help make informed decisions for the future.
  4. Cross-Country is not (currently) an Olympic Sport. If the objective of cross-country is participation why not find the best solution to have the most people participating. Maybe if there was a shorter option some of the long-sprint athletes would be more inclined to run. The long course could be for the more tradition mid to long distance runners.

My goal was to offer some suggestions to this challenge that were objective and based on fact. Of course there is always some bias in any letter (I am human after all!). Ultimately, I want what is best for the athletes.

My Letter:

To Graham Brown, CEO of the CIS; Dick White, President of the CIS; Denis Thiboutot, CIS Cross-Country Committee President:

I write you as a former CIS athlete, a current elite runner, an engineer, and a graduate of the Advanced Coaching Diploma in your consideration of sex equity for the CIS (and Conference Partners) Cross-Country Championships. I am writing in regards to the careful consideration of the discussion as it relates to cross-country races distances, not just for the women, but also for the men.

This letter follows a year later on the heels of the vote and discussion that was put forward by Steve Boyd, Cross-Country Head Coach of the Queen’s University Team. Last year the coaches did vote ‘no’ in regards to changing the distance for the women’s cross-country race, they agreed to leave the championship race at 6k. In recent years there was also a vote put forward to the female athletes asking them what distance they would prefer to run; they voted to keep the distance at 6k.

One of the things I believe is missing in the conversation of sex equity and equal distances for cross-country is the discussion of the athlete as a whole. By this I mean, much of the discussion has centred upon the scientific facts about whether or not women can run the distance, but at no time in the conversation has anyone mentioned that these athletes they are discussing are student-athletes; and not just the women, the men are part of this student-athlete discussion.

I believe the word student is the first part of this ‘term’ because first and foremost, athletes who participate in the CIS are students. The CIS Vision states, ‘We inspire Canada’s next generation of leaders through excellence in sport and academics,’ supported by the values of student-athlete centered, excellence, teamwork, and ethically driven, (CIS, 2012). The vision and values support the case that these are not only athletes, but primarily students.

At a minimum each student is required to take to be enrolled in the equivalent of three-course credits; “A student-athlete must be enrolled in a minimum of three (3) courses (minimum 9 credit hours or equivalent) in the term in which they are competing within CIS” (Policies and Procedures, 2015; Athletes Guide 2016). What this does not include is the hours of tutorials and/or labs, homework, preparation, etc; the total number of hours is much greater than 9. In addition, there are students who take the full complement of course (typically 5) and students in professional schools (i.e. engineering) who have much higher course demands.

Unlike professional athletes, students have diminished recovery due demands on their time to complete course work and attend classes. Some athletes are also required to maintain part-time jobs throughout their academics, to help fund their education, which again diminishes their recovery time. Another component of the student-athlete life is the social aspect of their education. Again, the social demands diminish recovery as well; and the social aspect, the sense of community, an athlete has during their undergraduate career is a vital part to the overall student-athlete experience. With regards to recovery, there are differences between how men and women recover. Men and women have dissimilar recovery; women requiring more recovery time compared to their male counterparts (Flores et Al, 2011).

Irrespective of sex, when the distance is longer it is not just the race that one must recover from, but the increased volume of training for these longer races.  The race, and thus decision, should not be viewed in isolation; it is not just the race that should be discussed and voted on but the increased volume of training as well. Since like the longer races, recovery is increased when you increase the volume of training for the student-athlete. In addition, it is not just the recovery but a host of increased mental, physical and emotional demands.

At the undergraduate level most of the students are espoir athletes, under the age of twenty-three (U23). Particularly for mid-distance running, these are athletes that when they graduate hope to begin to run at the national and international level. The CIS infrastructure is intended to be, “at the highest level of many sports, used as an intermediate step between high school and club levels to an Olympic or professional level,” (CIS, 2012). What follows is that the CIS is a natural stepping stone to Olympic and National Level distances.

In 2017 the IAAF will run the women’s and men’s races at the same distance, 10k. If the CIS is to be a pathway to these events, would it not make sense to run a distance between what is run in high school and what is run at the IAAF for both the men and women? As part of the pathway to get here, the distance should not be the equivalent of the IAAF but shorter. It is worth noting that historically the IAAF used to run both long course and short course cross-country; the short course was 6k. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the CIS to learn from the past and bring back a viable option that could make sense for all middle distance athletes.

At the University Level, the World University Championships (FISU) have historically been approximately 6k and 10k, for women and men, respectively. Athletics Canada has chosen to run distances at their championships to match the distance of the IAAF to select the best team possible; it would seem that this logic is sound and a good example to follow.

One final thought as it relates to cross-country distances. In the Canada Sport for Life Document, under the stages of development, the opportunity to improve speed occurs in the younger years of one’s athletic life (Canadian Sport For Life, 2016). Running longer distances in cross-country is contradictory to this, since the longer the distance would mean more aerobic training versus speed training.

Possible solutions:

  •  Leave the distances as they are (6k for women, 10k for men)
  • Have equal distances for men and women (Options could include anything between 6k and 10k, though preferably less than 10k so the CIS can be a pathway as stated above).
  • Have two distances that both men and women could both run. Instead of changing the distances you could open up both races and have men run 6k and women run 10k. Awards could be separate for men and women in each of these races. Teams awards could be done in by scoring teams of three people instead of four, (although still allow seven to participate, this would allow for the maximum participation and growth of the sport).

I ask that before any decisions are made that the following be considered:

  1. Take a poll from the student-athletes regarding distance. In the past only the women were surveyed, this time it is imperative to survey the men.
  2. The survey should not simply ask the women if they would like to move to a longer distance. Why are we not asking the men if they would like to run a shorter distance? Survey options could include options for both sexes between 6 and 10k.
  3. Conduct more research, not only on the physical impacts of the race but the student-athlete as a whole. Research could include topics such as recovery (mental and physical), but also holistic health and wellness as it relates to the athlete.

I urge you to think about this holistically, to not just think of the cross-country race in a silo, but to see the whole picture. The student, the athlete, the whole person.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Sasha Gollish
P.Eng., M.Eng., PhD Candidate
Advanced Coaching Diploma Graduate

 

Sources:

Canadian Interuniversity Sport. (2012) University Sport Strategic Plan 2013-2018. Web. http://english.cis-sic.ca/stratplan/strategic_plan-Finale-En.pdf

Canadian Interuniversity Sport. (2015) Policies and Procedures 40 – Eligibility. Web. http://en.cis-sic.ca/information/members_info/pdfs/pdf_elig_pack/15-16/6_Policy_40_10_Eligibility_Rules_2015-16.pdf.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport. (2012) Student-Athlete’s Guide. Web. http://en.cis-sic.ca/information/members_info/pdfs/pdf_elig_pack/15-16/athletes_guide.pdf

Canadian Sport For Life. (2016). Long-Term Athlete Development 2.0. Web. http://www.canadiansportforlife.com.

Flores, D.F., Gentil, P., Brown, L.E., Pinto, R.S., Carregaro, R.,L., & Bottaro, M. Dissociated Time Course of Recovery Between Genders After Resistance Exercise.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research react-text: 52 25(11):3039-44