Covid: Female athletes 'harassed' while training outdoors

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Media caption,

Two people can now exercise outside together, after women raised safety concerns

A number of female Welsh sprinters have been verbally abused by strangers as they train in public.

They would normally be able to train at athletics tracks but those venues have been closed because of coronavirus restrictions.

Former Wales 400m champion Rhiannon Linington-Payne said the behaviour was "potential harassment" and not banter.

Welsh Athletics said it had started working with South Wales Police to tackle intimidating behaviour.

Linington-Payne, 29, from Cardiff, said the language shouted was often offensive or derogatory towards women.

"I've had inappropriate comments about my figure, wolf-whistling, cars slowing down to stare... I've even had a beer can thrown at me," she said.

"The more it happens, the more it wears away at you".

Currently only individuals classified as elite athletes by Sport Wales and part of the Commonwealth Games programme can travel to and train at designated facilities.

It means many athletes who represent Wales at a high level have been left training at home, alongside roads or in parks.

"It's actually quite ironic... I'm not allowed on the track for safety reasons, but I don't feel safe where I'm training now," added Great Britain and Wales sprinter Hannah Brier.

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Hannah Brier says she has been left feeling intimidated while out running alone

The 22-year-old, from Neath, who competes in the 100m and 200m sprints trains six days a week, doing weights in her parents' kitchen or running reps alongside flat stretches of road.

The masters student said one incident in the summer left her feeling "intimidated" as a man repeatedly drove past her, shouting and staring.

Miss Brier was so concerned about her safety that she eventually called her dad to pick her up.

The incident has left her choosing plainer and looser items of clothing to avoid attention.

"I find myself now going through my wardrobe and picking outfits that I think are not as flashy, not as revealing... I'm not going to get noticed if I wear all black," she added

Last week the Welsh Government eased lockdown restrictions to allow an individual to meet one other person from another household to exercise in their local area.

Image source, Elliot Slade
Image caption,
Lauren Williams says she has only started feeling unsafe recently

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the decision was "partly" because they had heard from women that "in the dark, cold and wet of January they don't feel safe going out to exercise alone".

A survey by England Athletics in 2017 found a third of female runners said they had been harassed while out running.

More than 60% of the 2,000 women questioned said they felt anxious running alone, with personal safety their main concern.

Lauren Williams, a 400m hurdler from Llanidloes, Powys, has had similar "unnerving" experiences while training in public spaces.

"Never before have I felt unsafe training but recently, I really have," she said.

The 21-year-old said she had received comments on her clothes being "too tight", or her outfits being too revealing.

"I'm not going out to run to look good, I'm going to perform so it shouldn't matter," she added.

The management student at Bath University added she does not have a choice other than to train to make next year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham but she is worried this behaviour might put other women off exercising outdoors.

"It manifests itself everywhere even in a local park, the message has got to be it is not ok, the behaviour shouldn't be condoned," she said.

Fellow athlete Linington-Payne agrees and has called for wider cultural change to stop this sort of behaviour.

"It goes deeper than sport," she said.

"It's just respect for other human beings and I'm shocked that there are people out there who still think it's appropriate to speak to someone like that."

In a statement, Welsh Athletics chief executive James Williams said the body's values promotes "respect, togetherness and fun" and everyone should be able "to enjoy the sport in a safe and inclusive way".

The organisation has recently started working with South Wales Police to tackle intimidating behaviour and derogatory comments.