Is Triathlon too Exclusive?

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Let’s face it – triathlon is not a very diverse or even inclusive sport. With the majority of triathletes in the US being high-income white males in their mid-40s, the sport is not very wide-reaching.

“That’s not where most of the country is,” says Thom Richmond, founder of the non-profit California Triathlon.

I met Thom during a run in London a few years back. We had both just crossed Tower Bridge and he saw the Ironman visor I was wearing.

Right after meeting Thom on a run in London (Thom on the right).

“Did you know that Ironman quotes an average household income of US $247,000 for its participants? USA Triathlon’s figure is $130k. Yet the US household income is only $60k,” he explained.

He went on to remind me how expensive entry fees are, especially Ironman fees. The Escape From Alcatraz is $750. Coaching, equipment, and more – we all know these things add up.

As a result, many people are excluded.

So, he set up California Triathlon as a way to make the sport affordable for everybody. The non-profit’s mission is, “Safe, affordable & accessible.”

Cal Tri organizes their own races and are focusing on the 20 largest cities in the US.
Entry fees are as low as $60 for adults (including insurance).

If your kids want to do a team event with you, they each pay their rate of $30 to race and so do you, as their teammates.

Insurance, swag bag, entry fee – it’s all covered.

Now that’s a good way to get a much wider demographic racing.

“Even before Covid-19, the U.S. market had been in a steep decline,” Thom explains.

“The pandemic has now accelerated that trend. Many race producers that were just hanging on are now gone. Our data indicates that there are 19 U.S. states with 0 races greater than 500 athletes. Where there are races, many of them are out of reach for a typical U.S. family.”

Thom poses some tough questions that are worth reflecting on:

  • What percentage of athletes are one-and-done Ironman customers? Our understanding is the number is quite high. What are the reasons? Bucket listers, not sustainable as a lifestyle, experience?
  • Relative to safety, what are the trends for triathlon and specifically Ironman races? We maintain the Wikipedia Page: Triathlon Fatalities. Ironman is an interesting case.
  • What is Ironman’s track record relative to diversity. Is it true that there are zero persons of color in the Ironman Hall of Fame?

“Just because I ask tough questions doesn’t mean I am an Ironman detractor,” he explains.

“It is just the opposite. They are a private company and have every right to target and serve their desired market and profit from those efforts.”

“However, there seem to be way too many organizations promoting and hyping without visibility into the health of the sport and the health of the individual athletes.”

Find out more here: California Triathlon

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