Why the Glen Coe Skyline Prize Fund is a Load of Bollocks

[Update: since I wrote this the prize fund has been equalised across all of Skyline Scotland’s races. This is a relief, though not all that surprising. As I mention towards the end here, Shane and co. are not without conscience and, given pause to reflect on the situation, I always expected this would be the outcome.]

There’s been quite the stooshie this week over Glen Coe Skyline and its prize fund. At the centre of this is a discrepancy between the money on offer to the men’s and women’s fields in 3 out of the weekend’s 4 races. In the Glen Coe Skyline itself, as well as the Ring of Steall Skyrace and the Ben Nevis Ultra, cash prizes are on offer for the top 10 men but only the top 5 women. A number of people, myself among them, have taken exception to this.

In a statement Skyline Scotland declined to correct this imbalance and gave a defence of their position, essentially boiling it down to numbers; more men run, so more men win prizes.

Historically there are disproportionately more male competitors and therefore, the prize fund for male runners has extended to 10th place.

This is wrong-headed in a number of ways.

First of all, the quantity of runners in a race is no indication of the depth of quality in the field; how does the number of men dragging their weary scrotums down from the mountains at 7 in the evening have any bearing on the competitivity of the race for the top 10, presumably sewn up well before the runner’s friends and family have finished digesting lunch? It doesn’t.

It has even less of a bearing on the women’s race. Quantity does not equal quality.

(Interjected Non-Mountain Running Analogy: athletics fans the world over are foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the men’s race at this year’s Berlin Marathon. This has fuck all to do with the 20,000+ sub-elite men who will be taking part and everything to do with Wilson Kipsang, Eliud Kipchoge and a tiny handful of other elites who will batter the crap out of each other for 26.2 miles. Again, quantity ≠ quality.)

Incidentally, the quality of the women’s field at the 2017 Glen Coe Skyline is ridiculous, the best collection of female mountain runners there’s ever been in the UK: both previous winners, Emilie Forsberg and Jasmin Paris; Caroline Chaverot, reigning champion at UTMB, Hardrock and Everything Else; Mira Rai, course record holder at Mont Blanc 80k; Megan Kimmell, 2016 Skyrunner World Series champion. . . And as far as the prize pool is concerned, that’s it. If these women go 1st to 5th, as their palmarès suggest they could, no one else gets a thing. Which is insane when you look at some of the women who would potentially miss out.

As a for instance, Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn, 6th in 2016. A week or two ago Katie won the Lakeland 50, taking the best part of half an hour off the course record. In this form she is, alongside Jasmin Paris, one of the UK runners best placed to go toe to toe with the Fancy Foreigners. Should she finish in 6th again, she will leave empty handed.

Contrast that with a for instance in the men’s race; me. Last year I was 7 minutes shy of the top 10. I hope to be a chunk faster this year and although the time required to crack the top 10 will no doubt be a big chunk faster than it was last year, let us drift into Fantasy Land and imagine that yours truly ducks in a nose ahead of 11th. €100 in my hot little hand, Katie gets a pat on the back and a better-luck-next-time. 

Katie Kaars Sijpesteijn trains just as hard as I do, is every bit as dedicated, is (let’s be honest) a much, much better runner than me. Yet in our twisted land of make-believe where Ally runs a blinder, Skyline Scotland’s prize structure thinks she is less deserving of reward for her efforts.

On top of all that, if women are underrepresented in our sport then surely the last thing we should be doing is structuring out prize purses in such a way as to indicate that the women’s race is less important. Driving home the narrative that the men’s race is the main event and anything else is a side-show isn’t going to have women signing up in droves. Particularly eyebrow raising in the quote I gave above is the historically part.

Let’s plough the same cock-heavy furrow we’ve been trudging through for years, sod any notion of affecting positive change.

One reason that all this is so frustrating is that the Skyline weekend should be a celebration of the best we have to offer. Over the last three years it has become Scottish hill running’s de facto global showcase. This is due to the work of course planner Gary Tompsett in putting together a selection of truly world class courses, just as much as to Shane’s ability to bring the world’s best to Kinlochleven. (Now there’s a phrase you never thought you’d hear 4 years ago.)

These are races that localish runners should be able to take a kind of pride in. Last year I crossed the Aonach Eagach with an Alaskan and a man who had come all the way from Japan just for the race. I felt like a tour guide. A tour guide whose clients were having the time of their lives (and who subsequently fucked off, leaving him for dead). To have the shine taken off by something as needless and anachronistic as unequal prize money is infuriating and more than a little embarrassing.

Visit Scotland; soaring mountains, misty glens, casual sexism.

I should clarify that I’m not trying paint Shane or anyone else at Ourea Events or Skyline Scotland as any kind of nefarious, Dickensian villain. Some have voiced their objections to this a little more strongly than I think is really necessary and I think that, on balance, Ourea events get more right than they get wrong; Shane makes genuine efforts to run his events in ethical ways and there is much that he is to be applauded for. Which makes it all the more surprising and disappointing that he’s dropped the ball here.

Lastly, I don’t think it’s too late for Skyline Scotland to rectify this.

We will not be changing the prize structure for 2017 at this late stage, or in a knee-jerk reaction to social media commentary.

But why not? A month or so ago a bunch of people emailed the organisers of the Braemar Gathering Hill Race, voicing concerns about a similar disparity in their prize fund. At their next meeting the committee decided those people were probably right and quietly redistributed their prize fund evenly across men’s and women’s races, less than a month ahead of the event itself. If you’re lagging behind the forelock tugging royalists in issues of social justice then it’s probably time you reconsidered things a little.

 

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2 responses to “Why the Glen Coe Skyline Prize Fund is a Load of Bollocks

  1. After such impassioned rhetoric, if you do slide into 10th place I trust you will be splitting or even wholly donating the takings across the gender gap.

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