Iron Girl – good intentions, bad timing

iron girl, woman running

Starting the new year with a fresh piece of controversy (which we all love secretly).

In this article we are going to explore the recent blunder that is the announcement of Iron Girl.

On the 15th of January Ironman Triathlon on their UK twitter page recently announced their newest venture, this was called Iron Girl. It was going to be a 5k run for women from the age of 16 and over, however this event has already been pulled due to heavy criticism.

Just to shed some light on who Ironman are:

Ironman triathlon is an international long-distance tournament, that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile marathon. With a race cut-off of 17 hours to become an Ironman. The races are organised by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and are generally considered one of the most difficult one day sporting events in the world. This competition is open to competitors of all genders and walks of life, allowing sportspeople the chance to prove their brawn and endurance.

The tweet generated a mostly negative response from both female and male athletes. Tweets branding the name patronising, some making reference to their old-fashioned marketing techniques and general distaste to the whole vibe it gave off.

One tweet in particular read from Lucy Glossage, a decorated Ironman champion:

“As 5x female champion of @IMUK I rather like being called an ironman champ rather than ironwoman. It indicates equality. I get that you are aiming to encourage women into sport but Iron Girl is just patronising. Why not relaunch it as ‘Ironfan’ and appeal to both sexes.”

Now let’s look at some of the problems people found with this announcement:

Starting with the name, this is what most people had a problem with. Using the term Iron Girl to appeal to women was probably not the smartest move. The name has come off as quite patronising and contradictory to the whole targeted audience.

Next looking at the target audience, women. There are thousands of women that compete in the Ironman triathlons around the world, doing the exact same course as the men and beating them too. So why is this 5k run only aimed at women? Are men just automatically made to run marathons and us women need the help?  Why create segregation if the intention was to create a lighter race for the less active? Easy solution, make it a run available to all.

Another point that was brought to life was in fact the logo chosen to represent these female athletes. A pink butterfly. Now don’t get me wrong some people love butterflies, but when you see a butterfly, we think of something that is fragile, delicate and graceful, these are not the words associated with Ironman triathlons. Or any triathlons for that matter.

Female athletes in any sport are beyond capable of beating men in tournaments. One example that is perfect for this is the recent winner of the Montane Spine Race, a 268-mile race through the UK Pennines in the middle of Winter. This race is tough and the winner of 2019 was Jasmin Paris, a UK female athlete that smashed records and beat the race at 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds. Beating the current record by an impressive 12 hours. This was all done in addition to stopping off and breastfeeding her 14-month-old daughter.

However, when I reached out to female entrepreneur, Angela Armitage. whose business, Dolphin Kick, is creating specialist custom triathlon kits. As an expert she shed a different outlook on the announcement.

“I do believe that inclusion and encouragement in participation is essential for all in an ever increasingly unhealthy population. I’m not sure the association with Ironman for a 5k event would encourage a novice to put on some trainers.

I do think politics aside at the end of the day it may have encouraged apprehensive woman who fear being judged by men an opportunity to get out and run. There are many women only events, I personally think if that encourages women to participate then that’s a good thing.”

And Angela is very right, we shouldn’t go on a witch hunt after Ironman because of a slight lapse in their marketing strategy. There are many women that are self-conscious at competing in events such as these, and the event Iron Girl was created to relieve some of this pressure.

Touching on the other point she made however was that Ironman, is a test of durability and endurance, their already excellent reputation for this would automatically deter novices of any gender to make a start of running.

The moral of the story really all boils down to marketing mistakes that shouldn’t be being made anymore. Ironman did apologise accordingly for their lapse in judgement, which we commend them for however how many more mistakes need to be made before people wise up and treat women and men equally. We are all human in the end, equally capable and equally affected by segregation.

2018 was a fantastic year for women and equality, is it too much to ask for a little bit of the same and more in 2019?

Still to hear of an announcement for ‘Iron Boy’ although we won’t hold our breaths.

About the author

Bethany Kearsley is a digital marketer who works for Tao Digital Marketing in Bolton, UK. Self-proclaimed foodie that loves to cook. Mother to an amazing little girl. Graduate from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in Public Relations and Media.

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