We all shave our legs, but that is where the equality stops.
You’ve probably heard a bit about the problems faced by female pro-cyclists. If you follow me on twitter, you certainly will have heard me talk about it. Women’s races have lower prize funds than men’s races, female riders are often unpaid, and many riders have to pay for their own transport to races. Here are some facts for you:
The first prize for the Chrono des Nations is €5785 for Elite Men. Elite Women? €379. The women’s race is shorter – but they still race 43% of the distance for a prize equal to 6.6% of the men’s prize!
In the UK, there have been only three women’s road races on TV all year; the Olympics road race, the UCI World Championships and, very briefly, the Halford’s Tour Series. Compared to men’s races that is an embarrassingly small amount of coverage.
The ProTour men are paid $264,000 on average a year. Marianne Vos, Ranked the World’s number 1 female elite road cyclist – is estimated to be paid $60,000 a year.
There is no minimum wage for female cyclists set out by the UCI. Men have a minimum wage of €30,000.
And to prove it isn’t just road racing that faces these kinds of gender differences: For all the Trials World Cup events the UCI has a minimum prize money amount of €3’336 for Elite/Junior men, compared to €590 for women.
Several female cyclists have spoken out recently about their disillusionment with the situation as it stands. Emma Pooley is the first person to come to my mind, as she has spoken this year about the possibility of giving up her cycling career. These were some of her words to Cycling News in January:
Frankly it’s a bit depressing that year after year you see teams and riders disappearing. All the while you see the governing body regulating saddle angles and what colour overshoes you’re allowed to wear. They could be doing more. …It’s a hard climate…I appreciate that but it’s a lot less to run a women’s team. You can do that on less than a quarter of what some men are on.
Marianne Vos, World Champion, spoke out about the lack of a minimum salary for female riders:
I think we all do as much for the sport as the men do…Of course, it’s a younger sport than the men’s sport, but it’s getting more and more professional and with a minimum salary it can only be more professional.
Ina-Yoko Teutenberg of Germany had something to say on the matter of minimum salaries too:
I think that’s total bullshit… We’ve seen in the last number of years that it’s getting more and more professional. The level is getting harder… We’re living in the 21st century so there should be equal rights for everybody.
I can think of only two reasons why anyone would think that the current situation with women’s cycling is not grossly unfair. The first: women do not deserve equal opportunities and rights to men. If you fall into that category, then I am not going to even attempt to win you over. The second reason: women’s cycling is not as professional, popular or developed as men’s cycling. I have marginally more sympathy if you fall into the second category. It is true that the history is not there like it is for men’s racing (the reasons for that could fill another whole post), but we cannot allow that to stop the sport from progressing to a level playing field.
The important thing is, that whatever the history, women’s cycling right now is incredibly exciting. The sport has had a fantastic year. In case you had forgotten…
The Olympic Road Race, London 2012.
The Olympic Road Race, London 2012. GB’s Lizzie Armitstead, shown centre, went on to take the Silver. First time I ever screamed at a sport event on the telly.
Marianne Vos, Olga Zabelinskaya and Lizzie Armitstead head the Olympic Road Race.
Marianne Vos after winning the World Championships.
Marianne Vos (Netherlands) on the podium with Silver medalist Rachel Neylan (Australia) and Bronze medalist Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) at the Worlds.
World Championships Junior Women’s Road Race. Lucy Garner wins World Title for the 2nd time, Irene Brustad takes 2nd and Anna Zita Maria Stricker in 3rd.
The talent is there, that is very clear. I believe that the supporters are there too. We need to make it clear to potential sponsors, the UCI, British Cycling and everyone else, that there is a massive fan-base for women’s cycling, and that the sport deserves equal attention to the men’s.
Throwing money at the problem will probably help to some extent, but that is unlikely to happen, and won’t help in the long term. What is needed is grassroots change. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m optimistic that we will get there. This is where you come in!
Watch women’s cycling. Noisily.
Go to the races if you can. When you’re there, make lots of noise. Hell, you could even make a banner. Drag all your friends along – they will love it! When it isn’t televised, write to the broadcasters and tell them that it should be. When it is televised, watch it, enjoy it, and tell everyone how bloody fantastic it is. Annoy all your Twitter followers by going on about it. Yell “THIS IS BRILLIANT!” at the cat in a particularly exciting moment. Blog about it…
Back in early September, Stefan Wyman (director of Matrix Fitness – Prendas Women’s pro cycling team) wrote an article for cyclismas.com on the Role of Fans in Women’s Cycling. As well as encouraging general support for the sport, he mentioned the idea of a Fan Backed Women’s Team. “Is there the support for this kind of venture? Who knows? You tell me.” It turns out there is.
Dave Smith (former Olympic Coach and sports performance advisor) tweeted in response to Stef’s article, saying he would pledge £100 toward a women’s team if 500 others could also make the pledge. Soon momentum built and #fanbackedwomensteam was becoming a popular topic on Twitter, with 200 people pledging to be involved in just over a week. “Not all of us have £100 to pledge” I hear you cry! I fell into that category, so I messaged Stef to suggest that I would be happy to pledge a skill, rather than cash. After an exchange of emails I ended up designing a logo for #fanbackedwomensteam. If you want to help, whether it be with cash or with your time, expertise or resources, then you can pledge your support via Twitter using the #fanbackedwomensteam hash-tag. You can read more about the idea as it stands here.
A Fan Backed Women’s Team is starting to look like a reality – something which I think is incredibly exciting, and goes to prove that there is a whole lot of support for the sport. There is no quick fix for all the problems facing women’s cycling, but this is a bloody good place to start. So spread the word, and get involved.
Ride your bike…
At the end of the day, all of this is for the love of cycling, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. The more of us there are riding bicycles, the more voices there are for cycling as a whole and therefore for women’s cycling. We’ve got nothing to lose from getting more people on bikes!
I have only starting following women’s cycling this year, but I now fully intend on making up for lost time. And I think you should, too.
Thanks due to John Orbea (@Cyclopunk) for helping me out on some of the facts
Credit for Olympic photos to Alexander Baxevanis and massive thanks to Bart Hazen for the World Championship photos.