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  • Writer's picturewillhammersla

3 Reasons Why I’m Happy I’m Not A Female Routesetter

It’s been 8 years since I first wrote an article, after I set Boulder Nationals in Ballarat with an all male routesetting team, musing on the fact that I wanted to see more women setting in Australia.

I wrote another article last year after attending the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. I was outraged that the first World Cup of the 2022 season was all male. You can read the blog here -

I spit out statistics and references about where climbing is at, some of the barriers to women in the climbing industry, how beneficial it is to have diversity in these spaces…… and yet.

All Male Routesetting team
Routesetting team in China

The Boulder Nationals in Australia this year had no female routesetters, the European Olympic Qualifiers in Laval had no female routesetters, The World Cup in China had no female routesetters, the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Jakarta had no female routesetters. 8 Years of 'progress' doesn't seem very progressive to me.

The Routesetting team for the Asian Quaifications in Jakarta

I think it is important to be clear. I have had the huge privledge of being a part of this industry for a long time, also meeting some of the people in these pictures, admiring some of their work. BUT, every time I see a picture of all men in these places of esteem and reverence, I feel uncomfortable, I feel dirty, I feel a part of the problem.

I mean, I still am a part of the problem. I work on an all male team, I've had all male teams set for me in my new role. I get lazy, I forget and I need to do better.

Since moving to Europe, I have had the pleasure of searching and finding routesetters to help create high level boulder problems. It’s been amazing working with many talented people, but I’ve realised how hard it is to find women who are experienced and confident in their abilities. It seems strange to me that climbing could be around for so long somewhere, and that this is still a challenge. There seem to be no women head routesetters at any of the gyms, and most women seem to have multiple plates spinning (mum and setter, small business owner and setter etc.)

Anna and Nat look on at their work at our team simulation before the European Qualifications in Laval

Routesetters have a history of ‘doing it rough’. We’ve volunteered, worked long hours for little pay, or just free climbing. We’ve had poor sleeping conditions, no travel support and have usually had to take on all the other physical jobs at competitions from building walls to fitting matting. I’ve been there, and I get it. We’ve worked hard to have the status and opportunities we enjoy now. BUT I reflect a lot on what it was that allowed me to pursue those opportunities. Just to state a few >

  1. The massive safety net of my parents, which meant if I failed, or ran out of money I had somewhere to go, a way out of trouble. I moved back home 3 times trying to become a routesetter.

  2. I’ve never been sexualised or harassed at work or in the street. I’ve been robbed, but they just took my stuff. 52% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes. I'd imagine that you would think about this when you’re figuring out where to sleep, in an out of the way industrial estate after a long day of setting, maybe even early hours of the morning.

  3. I had mentors and representatives in magazines and in climbing videos. Maybe there wasn’t a well worn path, but there were sign posts. And I could navigate them making friends and contacts, without trying to navigate unwanted sexual advances.

It’s not just about making space, it’s about creating the right space. And here is the best part boys. If you put the energy into it, if you demand more, it becomes a better place for you to work too.

Just to finish this off, and to stay true to the title, below are the three reasons why I'm happy I'm not a Female routesetter. Here are some figures from the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). I looked through the info sheets of all the events listed on the IFSC calendar where the IFSC and Chief routesetters are listed, and just counted. How many setter positions where listed, how many events were listed and how many women were listed.

Reason number 1 →

41% - The number of events with at least 1 female routesetter listed.

Of the 34 events on the IFSC website, only 14 of them listed a Female Routesetter. 2 of those had more than 1 Female Routesetter.

Reason number 2 →

18.5% - The number of routesetting positions that were taken by females

There were 92 routesetting positions in the 34 events listed on the IFSC website, only 17 of them were Female Routesetters

Reason number 3 →

2% - The number of Chief positions that were taken by females

There were 44 chief routesetting positions outlined in the 34 events, of them only 1 was a femlale routesetter.

No matter what you think, or what you think the reasons are, I don't know how you could feel good about these numbers.

Using one of my favourite Australian sayings

“Pull your finger out mate”

(Translation → 'To get one's finger out' - Stop hesitating or wasting time and start to act.)

If this post has raised issues for you feel free to reach out. Many times, discomfort is the first step in growing.

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