I find myself very torn. I want to go back to Kona and thus need to do Ironman branded events but I see more and more signs of corporate profit making which make me want to go elsewhere. There was a year or so ago where all the finishers t-shirts in Europe were more or less the same as globalisation hit our sport. Then last year I returned to Ironman Wales all ready to buy one of their cool race jerseys that had a massive Welsh Dragon on them only to find that the jersey had been changed to the standard Ironman corporate style. Slowly squeezing out any individuality about races to fit the more profitable corporate mould.
Then last week there was the announcement that the WTC had bought Challenge Copenhagen and Challenge Aarhus accompanied with the quote from the WTC CEO “Ironman is committed to growth in Europe”. Made me wince for a couple of reasons. The first being that it’s not growth of triathlon in Europe since it is merely rebranding existing races. This growth is not great for us athletes since it’s not a growth in choice or variety, it’s actually a reduction in choice. Of course, I realised this quote was aimed at their shareholders who are looking merely for profit and in this current age growth is the way.
The second reason to wince is the fact growth was mentioned as if it is by definition a good thing. Our society is dominated by this idea that growth is good and many take it for granted without thought. However growth can never go on forever.
Take BTF membership. Looking at their stats we see membership going from 6,400 in 2004 to 15,274 eight seasons later. That’s 11.5% growth per year. Continuing like that would see 45,000 members in 10yrs and 3.5 million in 50. Having to enter a race in a ten minute window one year before will start looking like a luxury. Of course this sort of growth can’t continue.
Looking at Ironman I can think of 4 new races in the past year (Tahoe, Copenhagen, Colorado, Los Cabos). Just those four represent about a 15% increase. That sort of growth can’t go on for long as it would result in 62 Ironman branded races in just five years.
Imagine trying to qualify for Kona with that many races. There would be about 30 slots per race (assuming they don’t extend the pier in Kona and build a new hotel or two) meaning between 1 and about 3 per age group. Growth under the current system will mean qualification ever closer resembles a lottery since you can only really race one or two qualifying races. So even if you’re top 10 in the world in your age group you’d have to keep your fingers crossed that none of those quicker than chose the same race.
It would also mean the distribution of ages at Kona would move further from that typically seen at qualifying races since each age group gets at least one slot if one person starts. It would see each age group allocated a minimum of just over 3% of Kona slots even if they represent less than 1% of the participation.
I have wondered how Europeans will react to this sort of corporate acquisition of races. Their view of such things, I feel, may be a little different from North America where I get the impression Ironman branded events are it. In May on camp with a load of Canadians they asked me the best Ironman I’d done. I said Challenge Wanaka to which they asked for another to which I said Roth. Then I realised they meant Ironman branded. I then asked them about Penticton and it turned out none would do it now since it wasn’t Ironman. I was stunned they weren’t bothered about the history of the Penticton course.
My hope is that if too many races get taken over the Europeans will vote with their feet. Like me, though, many will be torn, as they want to go to Kona.
Perhaps there is another way. I’d often dreamt of a philanthropist buying the WTC and running it for athletes but recently Brett Sutton has been tweeting an idea to get the athletes to buy the WTC and run it for athletes. Imagine than, all those great races being run with the interests of athletes as the priority. Perhaps there’d even be genuine prize money. Not only allowing Pros to make a living but also perhaps attracting some younger athletes to take Ironman seriously so we can see just how fast they can go if some top ITU guys can be attracted across whilst still in their prime.