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Super League’s Fatal Flaw

Where my girls at?

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Where my girls at?

For hardcore triathletes, it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of last weekend’s Super League Triathlon debut. The lineup was top-notch, the production value first rate, and the commentary entertaining. But the whole thing has one fatal flaw: there were no women.

Now I know a women’s race has been promised in the future; the original press release said 15 women would compete in the yet-to-be scheduled October event. (Note: 23 men were slated for the March event.) But here’s why that doesn’t cut it: Super League Tri, by its own definition, was supposed to be a game-changer. It was an opportunity to re-think what triathlon is and how it’s watched. Super League had a blank slate to reinvent the sport and they came back with a format that left female athletes out completely—or that might, someday, give them their own separate race. At best, that move shows a lack of creativity. At worst, it indicates the minds of the men behind Super League are stuck in the ‘90s, when reducing women to arm candy in commercials was a culturally acceptable thing to do. Bless Olympic gold medalist Emma Frodeno for holding her own with the commentary in a sea of testosterone.

Triathlon has historically struggled to attract women. Touting Super League as a step toward the future of the sport, in this format, sends everyone in the sport or considering taking it up the wrong message about what triathlon is and where it’s headed. Given the opportunity to start fresh, why would we look to cycling where the largest events continue to treat women’s races as second-class add-ons (see: La Course by Le Tour de France) when we could create something where men and women race together equally?

The Pro Triathlon Organization certainly doesn’t have everything figured out. At this point, The Collins Cup is a distant promise rather than a tangible event like Super League. But at least in their reimagining of what pro tri can be, the PTO is showcasing a format where men and women race side-by-side, everyone counting equally toward their team’s goals. (Read more about The Collins Cup.)

Kudos to Super League for getting something off the ground that got the triathlon world excited about pro racing again—and for giving pros a chance to earn some real cash. But it’s 2017. It’s unforgivable to treat women as an afterthought.