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The Great Run now allows non-binary runners, but there’s a catch

Letting non-binary and gender-neutral runners compete is a great start for Scotland’s Great Run. Not awarding them prizes or official rankings is a let down.

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Runners rush from the starting line, commencing the 2018...
Runners rush from the starting line, commencing the 2018 Stirling Scottish Half Marathon, hosted by the Great Run.
Photo by Stewart Kirby/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Every late summer, around 30,000 runners compete in the “The Great Run,” the Bank of Scotland’s running event in Glasgow. This year, race organizers created a third category for non-binary and gender-neutral competitors.

It’s a great move towards inclusion that comes with major drawbacks: The rules say non-binary and gender-neutral competitors can’t win top prizes or official rankings.

The Great Run created the third category after receiving criticism in 2018 for not accommodating non-binary runners. Its new category is in accordance with a 2018 guidance by Scottish Athletics (SA), the national governing body for athletics in Scotland.

The 2018 SA guidance says, “Anyone competing under this additional category will not be able to have their performance counted towards rankings.”

SA specified that the third gender category doesn’t apply to transgender competitors who compete alongside other members of their own (binaried) gender.

Male- and female-identified athletes can compete as “elite athletes” in The Great Run by submitting qualifying run times from past running events. As such, they can win anywhere from £1,500 to £75 (roughly $1,838 to $92) for running fastest. In descending order, the cash awards depend on whether the runner is a British citizen, foreign-born or a wheelchair-user.

Elite athletes’ official rankings can also help them qualify for other international running competitions. However, non-binary competitors aren’t allowed to achieve elite athlete status.

That’s partly because other big races worldwide lack third-gender categories. Even if the Great Run did offer official rankings for non-binary runners, those rankings wouldn’t help them compete elsewhere — well, not just yet anyway.

“Great Run events have always welcomed anyone who wants to take part, without prejudice,” a Great Run spokesperson told The Telegraph, “and we’re happy to be able to provide this entry option for our runners. Prizes at this event, awarded by Great Run, are limited to elite athletes only.”

If The Great Run or Scottish Athletics pushed for non-binary rankings and prizes, they’d establish a culture-shifting precedent, influencing other major races to do the same, and establishing non-binary running competitions worldwide. For now, however, this appears to be one step forward for gender neutral athletes, and two steps back.