Equality and diversity
Over the past few months, World Athletics has been celebrating diversity and equality in our sport. Here are some of the highlights.
In January we marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust by remembering the star athletes whose lives were touched by the holocaust.
One of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust in the sporting world is Shaul Ladany, an Israeli race walker who made it through both an internment in a concentration camp in 1944 and the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
In 1941 Ladany and his parents fled to Hungary where, as an eight-year-old, he was captured by the Nazis along with his parents and shipped to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. But Ladany had a lucky escape, and in December 1944 he and his parents were released from the camp.
Ladany and his family emigrated to Israel when he was 12 and he started running when he was 15, trying his first marathon at the age of 18. In his mid-20s he switched to race walking and went on to compete at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. He narrowly escaped capture by the Black September terrorists when they targeted Israeli athletes in the Olympic village, Ladany fleeing the apartment block and alerting nearby teams to the situation.
While Ladany had no choice but to endure the horrors that unfolded around him through the early 1940s, others, like Martha Jacob, were able to escape before her life came under threat.
In February we marked the International Day of Women and Girls in Science by talking to four trail-blazing women who are leading the way in sports science in athletics.
“I love exploring a new idea or tackling a challenge in sport via nutrition,” says Dr Louise Burke. “Over the last years, my team has developed some new models for doing this – the research-embedded training camp. We work with the athletes and coaches to set up a training camp that promotes performance improvements through the environment of good facilities, support to allow athletes to train hard, and an environment of sharing knowledge and ideas.
“Everyone is a collaborator in the research question we embed in the camp, and we all cooperate to find the answers. It’s a great experience when talented athletes, coaches and sports scientist all provide blood, sweat and tears towards a common goal. It produces great fun as well as great science – a true win-win! My new crusade will be to make sure that females are equally able to benefit from these projects.”
To mark World Day of Social Justice on 20 February, we told the story of Huwe Burton, who found solace through running after being wrongfully convicted of killing his mother.
In prison, Burton took up running. He started because he wanted to get in shape for the prison football league but stuck with it because he found he loved it. He said running helped him feel free.
Freedom was something Burton had long dreamed of. Almost immediately after writing his confession in the late hours of the night only days after his mother’s murder, Burton recanted. He has maintained his innocence since.
When he ran in the New York City Marathon in 2016, he did so while on parole and still fighting his case. In 2019, however, Burton ran the marathon as a free man—exonerated and, for the first time in 30 years, believed.
To mark Black History Month in February, we told the story of Ralph Metcalfe, the Olympic legend and life-long public servant who was pivotal in its formation as the landmark observance it has grown to become.
His track career behind him, Metcalfe resumed his studies and served in the US Army during World War II, eventually rising in rank to first lieutenant and earning the Legion of Merit for his physical education training programme.
After the war he returned to Chicago where he began a career in public service that would last the rest of his life. Later, his fierce competitiveness on the track would serve him well in the rough and tumble political trenches of Chicago Democratic Party politics.
But he also famously broke with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, for years the head of the vaunted Chicago Democratic party machine, to denounce the abuses and racist tactics of the city's police department. “I used to be called the world's fastest human,” he said. “I have never run from a fight.”
On Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March, we spoke to Italian sprinter Ayomide Folorunso who, despite the occasional hostility and xenophobia she has encountered, found that the vast majority of fans have embraced her as one of their own.
She counts herself lucky to have arrived at the age she did, when she could integrate far better than older immigrants. Through that period, sport proved a powerful weapon to break down any barriers.
“The games I was playing as a kid in Nigeria were similar to when I arrived in Italy,” she says. “Playing games was another way to learn the language (and the kids realised) if Ayo is part of our team, we have a chance to win in our backyard game. Playing, jumping, running, throwing – everyone can understand them. Sport is the universal language. It’s one of those vital blocks that build the foundation to open up more complicated levels of interaction.”
Throughout the second week of March, starting on International Women’s Day on 8 March, we celebrated World Athletics Women’s Week by launching #WeGrowAthletics, a pledge to take further strides towards greater gender equality in the sport. As part of that, every piece every piece of feature content on World Athletics platforms that week was produced by, and featured, women:
On 21 March, World Down Syndrome Day, British former sprinter Nicola Sanders explained why she has switched spikes for mismatched socks.
As well as running, Oliver loves music and making people laugh. He’s a rugby and football fan, and he has Down’s syndrome. Diagnosed when he was just a few days old, Sanders is passionate about raising awareness around the condition.
“Down’s syndrome is a third copy of the 21st chromosome, which is why we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on the 21st of March – the 21st day of the third month,” explains Sanders. “We wear odd socks on World Down Syndrome Day because when you look at the scans of chromosomes, they look like little mismatched socks and obviously people with Down’s syndrome have three copies – an odd number – of ‘socks’. Also, it is a way of celebrating difference – they don’t match, they are not the same, yet they are the same. They are all socks. The same as people with Down’s syndrome – they are all people. We use it as a fun way of celebrating difference.”
Elsewhere on our platforms, we provided an update on the Athlete Refugee Team, and launched our ‘For The Record’ series, putting the spotlight on four of the biggest stars in the sport: triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis of Sweden, middle-distance runner Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, and sprinter Michael Norman of the USA.
More exciting content is planned for the next few months when our attention will shift to discovering and exploring the intricacies of the sport.