There Will Be No Equality For Women In Cycling Until The UCI Mandates It
Over the last few years as I’ve simultaneously pounded my head against the wall and burnt any bridge I could find for equality in cycling and the wider bike industry, one clear culprit has emerged: the governing bodies inside of cycling. More specifically, the UCI and national federations who flagrantly endorse and perpetuate wage discrimination within the sport.
When one looks at the disparities in men’s fields to the women’s fields, some of the differences seem clear — less female riders, of course, but if you look close enough, patterns patterns emerge. Less opportunity, fewer competitive courses, lack of press coverage, dismal ongoing support for feeder programs and nonexistent marketing are just a few issues in a Medusa-esque problem. However, when we pan out and look at the larger view (as well as a few key rulebook mandates), sexism and lack of equality inside of cycling isn’t all that surprising. How could it possibly be a surprise when the bigger hands controlling the strings can’t even be bothered to equalize salary requirements in the elite road peloton? The UCI, in fact, mandates an annual salary of €35,000 for all pro men but have said nor ruled anything for female athletes of the same caliber.
What’s possibly more horrifying than this unethical and illegal conduct is that these lack of guidelines have infected national federations around the world and caused subsequent waves of inequality and discrimination for athletes at even the most basic levels of competition in cycling, as well as sponsorship and support for female athletes of all disciplines.
There currently exists no rule for equal salary, equal payout, equal support or equitable treatment of women in cycling. None.
It’s 2018 and there are no rules for how to treat half the population as though they’re humans who have to put food on the table… And yet we scratch our chins at the fact that sexism and discrimination pervasively infect the rest of the bike world?
I’ve tried talking other journalists into covering this issue. I’ve tried cajoling, berating, educating and even begging media sources to discuss the root of the inequality and to actively identify and repair the problems at hand, all to no avail. This article will likely see my professional racing license revoked, and I have no doubt in my mind that further consequences will follow.
But this is too important not to say.
So. Now that we’ve identified the root of the problem, what are some solutions? I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you talk about a problem, you’d better have a few suggestions to follow it up or else you’re just whining.
And solutions we have.
First, a UCI mandate for equal salaries of pro athletes across the board: if there is a salary requirement in one discipline for the men, it should be identical for the women. Equality starts there. For disciplines without salary requirements, UCI factory teams competing for ‘Overall Best’ season awards should be required to have at least one female racer. Ideally, I suggest factory teams be mandated to have, at minimum, a junior female racer and an elite female racer in order to qualify and be listed as a factory UCI team (such as the downhill MTB discipline).
Second, a UCI regulation that for all elite races in all disciplines, the award payout must be equal between women and men. As part of this equal payout, women and men also race the same courses and the same lengths. Identical. Equal effort means equal payout.
Third, mandatory downgrade/letter-of-the-law professional upgrade. Until the depth of field ensures quality of competition, athletes who cannot consistently compete within certain parameters or limits should not be granted pro licenses, nor be allowed to keep them. The category structure was setup to accommodate athletes of all skill levels, but is frequently disregarded and/or abused where female athletes are concerned. Not only are unqualified athletes a safety risk to more skilled competitors, but they dilute the meaning of ‘professional’ and create room for the argument against equal pay for athletes regardless of gender. Mandatory downgrade may sound harsh but it both preserves and guarantees the quality of competition — having a large pro women’s MTB category is useless and dangerous when only a small portion of the category can consistently perform. Ensuring that elite/professional fields only contain the best and most capable of the discipline also preserves the brand of ‘professional’, clearing the current fog of conflicted earning potential.
Fourth, a guarantee that the UCI’s rules must be enacted and followed by all subsidiaries and lower governing bodies; any UCI-sanctioned national federation must be required to adhere to all equal-sport rules, ensuring that racers, riders and competitors at all levels have equal opportunity to excel and progress within cycling, regardless of gender. This requirement must be upheld and enforced with every federation and governing body regardless of political affiliation or financial ties.
In the preamble to the UCI’s Code Of Ethics, it reads “The UCI acknowledges its responsibility to safeguard the integrity and reputation of cycling throughout the world. The following Code re ects and de nes the most important core values for behaviour and conduct within UCI and its a liates. The conduct of persons bound by this Code shall re ect their support of the principles of integrity and ethics and their e orts to refrain from anything that could be harmful to these aims and objectives.
Furthermore, UCI and its continental confederations and national federations, as well as their o cials individually, all licence-holders in the world of cycling and all organisers and applicants for the organisation of UCI competitions and events restate their commitment to the UCI Cycling Regulations and undertake to respect and ensure adherence to the below provisions which form an integral part of the UCI Cycling Regulations.”
Ultimately, what the UCI chooses to do affects every discipline at every level of cycling and if they cannot or will not do the right thing and create parity within the sport on the basis of their belief in equal opportunity to pursue excellence, it’s time to disband the Union Cycliste International and build a governing body that will act with integrity and honor.