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Recent lettersThe debate on pay in women's cycling continues in our letters page this week, with a wide range of opinions. Discussion has strayed somewhat from the original spark, which was Hein Verbruggen's stated desire to see equal prize money for women over the next four years. While many of the philosophical issues are similar, there's a big practical difference between equal prize money, which the UCI could mandate, and equal pay, which would be very hard to police, and arguably harder to justify.
Randy Parker believes women don't compete at the same level as men and so should not be rewarded at the same level unless they're prepared to line up against them.
Melanie Barnes points out that we have a 'chicken and egg' situation here -- reward women cyclists better and you'll see the standard improve.
Lars Jørgensen thinks prize money should be tied to the amount of interest women racers engender from "sponsors, media and the public in general". So, no prize money for any event that doesn't make the TV then. Lars also comments that women never ride the same distance as men. Tell that to Cassie Lowe or any of the other women who've raced RAAM.
Brian Walburn makes the point that salaries come from sponsors and the amount of money sponsors put into cycling depends on the return they expect to get. From this perspective, women's racing is not yet as attractive a proposition as men's. However, it's interesting to note that a couple of mountain bike teams -- Specialized for example -- have more women than men on their rosters because women are considered better value for money. Here's a thought though: equal prize money would be a signal that women's racing is considered, by promoters and the governing body, as equally valid. Such a move might help women racers get paid better. Jon Kortebein makes a similar point.
Tom Kunich points out that there are physiological differences between men and women (vive la difference!) but will no doubt hear from people who disagree that these differences "will forever make men greater achievers in power and endurance sports".
Jack McCracken thinks prize money should reflect "the depth of talent in the field." This is patently not the case in men's racing at the moment so why should it apply to women's racing? The Tour of Langkawi attracts a lower-quality field than other stage races, but it's one of the richest races on the calendar.
Tony Verow draws an interesting parallel with women's soccer, which has built a 'feeder' system for young athletes and gained commercial viability by growing from the grassroots.
Katherine Bates, who is about to embark on the European odyssey that's mandatory for any Australian cyclist who wants to make it, just wants to make a living.
Andy Farrand points out that women's races are not as long as men's, so women aren't doing the same work. But prizemoney isn't paid for riding the distance, it's paid for winning the race. If we accept that it's reasonable to have separate men's and women's races (think of it as a crude version of boxing's weight classes) then the reward is for being the best racer on the day. Nevertheless, as Charles Cangialosi points out, triathlon has equal distances for men and women.
Slightly overshadowed by the debate on women's cycling but no less fascinating is the discussion of what constitutes sport. Regis Chapman sees considerable differences between his two sports -- table tennis and cycling -- but believes sportsmanlike behaviour is what really matters.
Daniel Pagel points out that if an elevated heart rate is a requirement then chess is indeed a sport (and let's not forget that chess players had eccentricity and temper tantrums down to an art form long before John McEnroe), while Melissa Erion has a definition and a dig at fishing.
To round up, Jack McCracken wonders if Actovegin isn't an ideal candidate as a masking agent for the effects of EPO, Bill King sympathises with UK cyclists forced into inactivity by foot and mouth, and Nick Gentleman wants to know where he can get a copy of Willy Voet's book.
The answer to the issue of women's financial opportunities in cycling is simple, but apparently overlooked. To put it in perspective:
If I train just as hard as Lance Armstrong, or Jan Ulrich, and have just as much passion and enthusiasm, and put in all the hours, but darn it, I'm just not as good, should I be paid the same? Should a sponsor want to hire me, or be legally compelled to hire me for the same money?
Should ballplayers in the CBA, or playing AAA baseball make as much money as those in the major leagues, or the NBA? I'm sure they train as hard, and put in the same hours, since presumably most of them want to make it to the next level.
Should men and women be paid the same pay for equal work in business, or the arts, or sciences?
My point? In business, arts, sciences, etc. men and women are more often than not equally capable of producing results at the highest level of these fields, and in fact compete for the same jobs on the same playing field, and clearly should be paid as such. Thankfully, more and more often, they are.
However, in sports like cycling, women simply do not compete at the same level as men. You might hate that fact. You might wish that it were different. But it is not. When comparing the top male and female athletes in cycling, athletics, swimming, etc. (not Jeannie Longo to a rank amateur male), there is no comparison. If you have any doubt about this, go take a look at the recent TT results from Redlands. This is typical, not an anomaly. This is in no way meant to criticize or marginalize the many fabulous and dedicated female athletes. It is simply the way it is, whether we like it or not.
What many letter writers are asking for is not equality, it is special status. They want to see the same prizes for different levels of performance. This logic is purely self-serving, and is in fact, the antithesis of any truly 'feminist' thinking.
But for the women who truly believe that they should be able to compete for the same prizes and have the same financial opportunities as men, the answer is simple:
Line up with the men!
Better yet, lobby the promoters to simply combine the men's and women's purses, so that everyone can compete at the same level for the same money. With all that talk of equal effort, capabilities, training time, sacrifices, etc., what could possibly be more fair?
Chicken before the egg. Why should I train and prepare for that much racing if I'm not going to get paid enough to even to cover the plane trip? On the hopes that some day I might? But that doesn't put food on my table today, after I ride for eight hours. You cannot expect women to be able to train to the level of men and then get the money. We must live within our means today, which means working at regular jobs to pay for rent, food and supplies. If we are so busy trying to put food on the table, we have less time to train. There are only so many hours in a day, and we all must sleep some time. Man or woman.
We must be paid enough to have the time to train enough to compete in these so-called "men's races." Perhaps we should tie one arm behind your back, and then put you in the boxing ring. And our suspicions are correct! You cannot beat your (unbound) opponent.
And what it seems to come down to is, do you love the sport, or do you love the men? The level at which the competitors performed in the early days of the sport comes no where close to the level of today's women. Were those men any less great athletes? No, because they are still cyclists. Just because there is a level of competition that is considered higher, doesn't mean everything below it is trash. College sports anyone? Most have corresponding pro sports, and yet everyone in the US is waiting with baited breath to see who wins the National Basketball Championship. Why bother watching? Their skill comes no where near the level of the pro teams. And yet we watch, because it is a group of human beings pushing themselves to the limits of their capabilities. Do you really need more than that?
"A champion has vision. A champion dreams of things that haven't been and believes they are possible. A champion says 'I can'."
As long as women aren't generating the same amount of interest from sponsors, media and the public in general, an equal share of prize money should not be considered. In that respect I don't care whether female cyclists are more or less dedicated or ride the same amount of kilometers (which they don't and never will do) - to cut a long letter short.
Lars B. Jørgensen
In my opinion, nearly every author of the letters regarding women's cycling and equality of pay is missing the point. Do not be confused; neither men nor women are getting paid because one group is more dedicated than the other, faster than the other, can or can't have babies, or whatever.
Who pays the bills, and thus the salaries? Sponsors do. Why do these sponsors put out the large sums of cash required to field a competitive European professional racing team? While there may be a couple exceptions, 95 per cent of the time I am sure the reason is because they are hoping to receive a financial return in excess of their investment in the sport of cycling. Do not confuse getting paid for cycling with welfare -- it's a business. Men are currently receiving more pay than their female counterparts, in nearly every sport, because the men's sports get far, far more exposure than the women's, and consequently men's sponsors get far more exposure in return for their investment. Male and female cyclists are certainly not performing the same job; while they may both be racing bicycles, men are competing in men's events while women are competing in women's events, and as far as business and the sponsors are concerned, these are quite different jobs.
The current state of cycling salaries will not change until the public's demand to view women's events equals or surpasses that for men's events, while simultaneously female athletes and their agents demand equal pay and are willing to stick by that demand. While it may seem unjust that two riders who have equal dedication to their sport are being paid dramatically different salaries, it is not their dedication and heart that is earning them their pay. These qualities surely enable them to get to the top of their respective sports and remain there, but once there they are not getting paid for their levels of these qualities, they are getting paid for what the sponsors perceive is the rider's "worth" to their bottom line, and that worth is determined by the viewing public. While this may seem unjust, it is a fact of life in the business world.
As far as equal pay for women in bike races goes, it's not a matter whether or not women are "as good as" men as Doug St. George of Sydney suggests. It's a matter of what the market will bear. If race sponsors feel that sponsoring a women's bike race gives them the same value as sponsoring a men's race, then the money will be there to pay women the same as men. One can't get into arguments about whether or not women "should" get paid equal to men when the realities of the market apparently won't support it.
It appears that people are taking Doug St. George's letter a little too personally. If women want equal prize money they need only convince the promoters and sponsors that they deserve it. So far they haven't been able to do that.
Regardless of that you think that the motivations behind this are, one thing is for certain, there are only a few of the very best women racers that can hang in a fast amateur men's pack. None that can stay with the European peloton.
Quite frankly I am sort of surprised when people do not wish to admit that there is a physiological difference between the sexes that will forever make men greater achievers in power and endurance sports.
This isn't to say that women's races aren't competitive and entertaining. Nor that there aren't some women that can ride faster than most men. But in competition you pit the best against the best.
I am always interested in the outcomes of the women's races at all levels and especially the Idaho Challenge. But if you were, say, Timex Corporation who would you rather have endorsing your product, Ina Teutenberg (See, it's STILL ticking) or Lance Armstrong?
I agree with Keith, there are fewer women competing, therefore there is less competition. The size of the prize should reflect the depth of talent in the field.
I know lots of sheilas who are faster, stronger and better than me. It is a real pity that they are also mothers who are dedicated to looking after their sons and husbands, who of course are out their doing their own thing.
Women need a lot of will "power and endurance" to put up with what us blokes throw at them.
Max Boyd Richards
I appreciate Keith Richards well-thought-out letter regarding positive steps that could be taken to improve the status of women's cycling. It is clear to me that if that part of the sport is to continue to grow, then support needs to start at the grass roots and that a lot of patience will be necessary. A parallel can be drawn with women's soccer in the US, which is now a viable commercial entity and a very positive experience for schoolgirls and women. Attractive to sponsors and the public, this "half" of a dominant world sport is thriving here thanks to a well defined feeder system that starts at a young age. If young girls and women are to perceive that cycling is a healthy sport, there needs to be a path for them to follow. In the meantime I think there is much that could be done to foster competition and funding at a "World Cup" level as Keith has suggested, but I agree that at this point equal prize money is a bit premature. For sponsors to want to put money into a sport, it has to have a modicum of visibility and media attention.
Tony Verow, MD
As a woman cyclist, I am appalled by a lack of understanding, and ignorance by people who suggest we do not deserve just rewards. Far and beyond any strengths and weaknesses women have, many are choosing to dedicate their lives to being the best and the strongest in their sport, be it cycling or any other, because they love what they do. Not so we can go as fast as the men, or even be comparable to them, and until recently, not to earn a living. No longer is it possible to be competitive in world cycling while holding down a full time job or study commitments, so without financial reward, it is not an option for many talented lady cyclists. Should the level of competition be sacrificed for this reason?
If professional cyclists are giving up their lives to move to Europe, their family and their friends, don't you think it is fair they earn enough money to live comfortably?
Doug needs to grasp the spirit of sport, and perhaps stop being an arm chair critic and get out there himself. Perhaps he needs to start a women's race and after he gets humiliated by some outstanding women riders, he will pull his head in and begin to appreciate...
[Katherine Bates is one of Australia's most promising young cyclists, having won a silver medal in the 2000 World Road Racing Championships (junior ITT) and in the 1999 World Junior Track Championships (IP), and is the current under 19 Australian champion in the IP and has collected numerous state and national medals.
Ironically, the original letter writer (Doug St George) is also a member of Ms Bates' local cycling club in Sydney.]
I would agree that equal work should gain equal pay. But the fact of the matter is, other than pushing pedals as they do, women and men do not do the same work. Women's races are shorter in length and difficulty (the women's Tour is an example) and when done on closed circuits they do not do the same number of laps. When there is equality of length and difficulty of races, that is, when both sexes undertake the same courses, the same miles, and the same number of laps then they should get the same pay. Now, that is fair, isn't it?
BTW, I truly enjoy women's sports, especially women's basketball as it is the way it should be played without the endless dunks etc so characteristics of the men's increasingly boring game. My remarks should not be construed as an attack on the "women's game," just as a desire to see real equality in effort and therefore reward.
The sport of triathlon has both men and women in the same race. Of course the men come in before the women but that does not seem to bother anyone. I would be all for equality for men and women who are doing the same job.
For me, the definition of a sport versus that of a game depends on two things -- the level of competition and/or the seriousness with which I take my given task. If I am someone who likes to play the game of solitaire, then for me it's a game. If I am acknowledged the world over as among the best solitaire players in the world, then I would say it's sport.
This is coming from someone who used to believe that all sports that weren't endurance sports were simply games for simpletons who had not suffered as I had suffered in pursuit of my 'sport'. I no longer think this. This may be true at a certain point of time, from my frame of reference, for me...but not for everyone. Arguing a point where everyone has good reasons is not really ever going to get anywhere.
I now find it hard to spread my activities before me and decide which merits the higher tick on the chart of life. Having done two rather opposite sports -- table tennis and cycling -- I have a new respect for the equally valid aspects of each.
One had many skills, but the majority of time in cycling is spent developing fitness, while table tennis demands years of technical skills to be developed before one is even mildly capable in competition. After that, the physical aspect becomes much more important, as evidenced by the tremendous athleticism of the Chinese and Korean players especially.
For me, table tennis has opened up golf and other primarily skill-based sports to be considered as sports rather than games.
Also, I imagine that even for Tiger Woods, his most fun time playing a game is when he can change his mind away from his 'sport' and simply enjoy a good game of golf.
For me, much of cycling was embedded into my heart forever by the wonderful people with whom I cycle-toured during my first year of riding. I wouldn't say that I was playing a game, but truly those days were my most memorable on a bike. Yeah, I liked to go fast, but it was for its own sake, rather than having to "train" or beat somebody to a city limit sign. I find myself missing those days of centuries and touring far more than I miss "the sport".
And what of those whom 'sport' takes on a different meaning, leading them to behave in unsportsmanlike behavior? This is at the heart of our doping discussions, I believe.
I would rather rid myself of those than to debate what is or isn't 'a sport'. I would rather concentrate on raising 'sporting' juniors who have fun riding their bikes fast for its own sake rather than to raise great bicycle racers.
I currently coach a pair of twins, and a young last year junior who are all quite good. One of the reasons I enjoy coaching them so much is that they enjoy ANY kind of bike riding -- BMX, mountain biking, etc. -- and they ooze their enthusiasm from their pores. I am sure they would play cycleball if given a chance.
Sometimes, a sport is a game, and sometimes a game is a sport. Let's all try to be sporting about it with each other, like the good sportspeople we are.
If in fact an elevated heart rate is what makes a sport a sport then chess would be a sport. If you play competitive chess and you are involved in a serious, important game in a tournament then at certain moments your heart rate increases. It does not increase to 180bps but it does go up. I cycle and I play chess. It does not matter what category you place the activities you are involved in unless you just have to have a black and white, organized world. Well, the world is not black and white but many different shades of color and it is only loosely organized at best. This sport question is like so many questions we see: what is art? what is pornography? We can't quite grasp or articulate what they are but you sure know it when you see it.
Sport: an outdoor or athletic pastime. Fishing and hunting hardly require athleticism. I guess one might need some pretty big muscles maybe to lasso that sea bass!
When Actovegin was first discussed by the media, I spent some time trying to figure out how it could affect oxygen transport, and the possibility that 2,3-BPG would have an effect crossed my mind. Further reading in general biochemistry textbooks convinced me that 2,3-BPG would not cross the erythrocyte membrane. Effects on glucose metabolism are another issue, and it remains to be shown that Actovegin has any effect on performance.
More likely, and mentioned here before by others, I am inclined to believe that Actovegin serves as a masking agent. It seems an ideal candidate for maintaining a healthy plasma volume and haematocrit and should be banned as such.
Racing in England is taking a big hit, with the cancellation of many events in March because of bans on restriction to try and curb the outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease. The news got bleak when word came that the disease has now been documented in France. In England, races and training rides were cancelled -- making me feel very sorry for the British cyclists. Now in France... does this mean the Tour de France could be in jeopardy? And with as transit as the world is anymore, imagine if this were to hit the United States. What would it feel like -- the outdoor riding season is here, the events are on the schedule, and you can not do a training ride? Or the event was cancelled.
I just feel very fortunate to be where I am, and I sincerely wish the best to the European cyclists!
Does anyone have any information on how to obtain a copy of the book Massacre a la Chaine by Willie Voet? if so please send me said information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last month's letters