Majorities and Minorities

It’s been a few months since climbings debut in the Summer Olympics. I would be interested to know how things changed globally after the enormous push to make this happen. I think in Australia, unfortunately, it primarily burnt out an already stressed system and the small group of people supporting it. I wish I could say that the climbing world changed, but it didn’t, at least not for us. It is still the same place it was in 2019, and because of the global pandemic and the stress of this major event, we really have some catching up to do.

This outcome did not meet my expectations....

It’s a strange thing, expectations. They are a double edged sword, sometimes providing you with the necessary motivation for success, while other times, creating a fiction that is more devastating than the truth. As a coach, I spend a lot of my time supporting athletes shape and adjust their expectations. It’s one of the reasons I ask what someone’s goals are, what it is they want to get out of training, and what they think their weaknesses are. These are all questions that help us decide where they are and where they think they want to be in the future. It’s fortune telling, educated guessing, but still just as effected by chance as tarot card reading.

When I use this strategy to think about the industry I work in, I feel like I should have known better.

- What do we want to get out of the Olympics - better conditions for all!

- What are our weaknesses - financial support and a lack of diversity

I should have spent more time thinking about my expectations. Using these questions to see the truth. Even on the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the executives are primarily men. 5 of the 16 members are female identifying, with both the President and the Director appearing male. Which when you take into account the almost even representation of athletes (51% Male - 49% Female) seems absurd. Change is hard and slow, and maybe I didn’t fully appreciate what our weaknesses were when I started.


I wrote an article 7 years ago about how I wanted to see more female routesetters. Looking back, it is nice to see how much I have learned and how basic my ideas were back then. It means I have grown, and growth is good, because no-one is perfect. It’s now 2022, post Olympics and the first boulder World Cup of the year was a complete team of male routesetters. I know from enquiry that it wasn’t supposed to be that way. There was a female routesetter lined up for the event, but when she pulled out, she was replaced by a man. She was replaced by a man because there just aren’t enough IFSC certified female routesetters.


All male routesetting team
The routesetting team in Switzerland - photo from the Flathold Instagram

I get it, I do….. competitions, politics, money, energy. It makes the pursuit of equal opportunity difficult. Sometimes it even makes it feel impossible. But I tell you what, I’ve been around in this industry for a decade now, and I know what we are capable of. I’ve been on the routesetting teams, working for free, finishing at 7am before the event starts at 8, scraping volunteers together from anyone and everyone we know, making our own holds because we just didn’t have enough. When we need to, we can get it done. When we didn’t have the people, we found them, we created them, we brought them into existence through blood sweat and tears. I mean, as a sport, we found our way into the Olympics, years of effort.


white male setters sitting on a mat
All white male setting team AUS Boulder Nationals. No pay, no accomodation...... I slept at the venue for this one. Thankfully things have improved since this.

Now take the sentence:

“There aren’t enough female routesetters”

And remove the word female.

Now tell me what you would do?


It’s 2022, we’ve been to the Olympics, the youth Olympics, the climbing industry has broken a billion dollars in the US, but we can’t find a female routesetter!?


Like I said, expectations are a double edged sword. They can hold you down as the pressure of them mounts. I expected to be talking about representation less, and to be undertaking the next challenge on our path to diversity by now. The evidence that supports diversity is overwhelming, (click here to find a really interesting articles on how diverse partnership outperforms homogenous ones) but I suppose there are still climate deniers, regardless of how the world moves around them, they are incapable of seeing past their own experiences.

There was a tremendous article released (check it out here), that outlined some of the failings of our current systems when it comes to pursuing diversity. Noah Walker (the author of the article) describes the all too common response from employers when asked about how they select routesetters:

“hiring a setter because they are the best for the job, not just because they are a woman”

He goes on to describe how this statement is a short road to the ‘I don’t see gender’ argument', which is an inherently destructive approach when discussing social issues. The problem is that by ‘ignoring’ gender in these situations, we are also ignoring the fact that individuals are treated differently because of their gender. Put best in Noah Walkers words - “gendered exclusion occurs at the intersection of strength-based gatekeeping and sexism.” You’re not strong enough to be a routesetter, conflates climbing ability with routesetting quality, which feels like the same thing as saying your ability to eat cake is relevant to your ability to make a cake, or that how well you build a wall is an indicator of how good an architect you are. These things are related but by no means the only factor involved, particularly in the commercial routesetting world.


The evidence is overwhelming, the benefits undeniable. The reality now is that if you are not aggressively pursuing diversity in your teams and management, you are going to get left behind by those that are.


To round it off, some interesting numbers from last seasons boulder world cup circuit:


Last season there were 4 boulder world cups. Across all 4 world cups there were fewer female competitors when compared to men (324 - 257). However, there were more tops in the female rounds (631 male tops - 645 female tops) but fewer female zones (1424 - 1181), which suggests boulder zones were less effective in female rounds. There were more female athletes in semi finals who scored no tops (and only women who scored no points at all in semi finals). Women also had more draws in finals for tops and zones, and the only 2 draws for first place, split on attempts (that's 50% of the events last year). As a routesetter our aim is to split athletes and allow climbers to express themselves on the wall. No points in semi-finals and draws in finals for women and not for men?...... I wonder if more female routesetters would help us do a better job?


Women had more semi finalists with no tops, and no score, but had more tops in finals

There were less female competitors over the 2021 season, but more tops and less zones

There were more draws over all for women across the season, where as men were split by tops and zones, every time, for first place.


PS. I want anyone who is reading this to know 2 things:

1. I am not perfect, but I am willing to learn! If you think I have missed the mark, need to know something, reach out to me!

2. If you do hear it, and you want to do something, but don’t know how…. Please reach out! I am always willing to share what I can without judgement!

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