Letters to Cyclingnews
Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.
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Once again, we've had many letters on the subject of the UCI's proposal to equalize prize money for men's and women's racing, most notably from Pam Reinhart, Nicole's mother. I'll let that one, and teh rest of today's batch, speak for themselves. Whatever we think on this subject, pro or con, history has shown that Hein Verbruggen is quite good at getting what he wants, so we may well be on the brink of a significant sporting experiment.
Mark Combs tackles the question 'What is sport?' and decries the commercialism and hostility in modern sport.
Finally, Simon Scarsbrook writes from the UK about the restrictions on racing caused by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and comments that you can still play golf. After today's announcement of a Marty Nothstein golf tournament, I'm starting to feel like we're being haunted by golf. www.golfingnews.com, anyone?
A few days before her last race she called us, she was really excited. She just got an offer from Saturn that she couldn't refuse. I will never forget her exact words, "Mom do you know how great this is for a female athlete to be able to make a living cycling!" Nicole was also very excited about the fact that BMC was offering women the same opportunity as the men to win the $250,000 bonus. All things being equal women face the same risks and are equally competitive and work just as hard as most men.
The Spirit of Nicole, and her Mother Pam Reinhart
Why not have men and women in the same race and may the best athlete take the prize?
I too am staggered to see that the UCI is considering equal prize money for professional male/female cyclists but I disagree with what the previous two people have argued about. It is not about how strong or how much dedication women have. It is not about what social background you have or what part of the world you come from. The amount of prize money depends on how much money a sponsor is prepared to put up to host an event. I guess it also has to do with how much it costs to physically run the even, like support staff, insurance, etc. But in essence the rider prize money is determined by what the sponsor will pay.
If an event is a real spectacle and heaps of people come to watch then you would expect the riders to also share in this success by getting more prize money. I believe that it would be a mistake to wake up one day and decide that all of a sudden the riders competing in the female version of the Tour de France should receive the same amount of money as the men. To earn the same amount of money the girls would have to get their races into people's faces and attract more interest.
I may be a bit naive on the issue, Australia can be rather isolated some times in the cycling world but as far as I can tell the majority of cycling coverage in the media is strongly male oriented. Track racing in Victoria / Australia will regularly attract over 100 men and be lucky to have 10 women riding. As far as I can tell this is indicative of cycling in general, at least in Australia. To pay equal prize money under these circumstances would not make much sense.
Better prize money will not improve the performance of women's racing. I have raced for 12 years and have seen incredible, reasonable and also terrible prize lists and I not once can recall that the guys in my race went faster or slower depending on the amount of money up for grabs (okay, except primes).
A very big crit here a couple of years ago had a prize list equalized by the sponsor. The winner of the men's and women's race both got at least $1000, with money going to 10th, maybe 15th.
The women's race averaged about 36km/h and I think Suzy pride won, and there wasn't enough finishers to give all the women's prize money to, you do the math figuring entry fee was $25. Brian Walton won the men's race with an average speed nearing 50km/h and about 100 guys paid entry.
This issue is not a conundrum, it's simple. Women can't say there'd be more female racers if the money was better or the racing would be more exciting. I applaud the women who do race but I think that it's simply too hard a sport to think that there'll ever be the same numbers of women racing as men.
No, I'm not a misogynist. (My wife likes the men's races better too)
I think Brian has hit it right on the head. But I'll take it one step further. I think that there is a direct correlation between the Male/Female split in viewers of a sport and the Male/Female split in athlete pay.
I haven't gone to the trouble of checking the numbers but I'm willing to bet that, comparatively, women are doing better in sports like tennis, gymnastics and figure skating then say basketball. Compare the salary difference between top players in the NBA and the WNBA, then compare what Pete and Venus make. Pete may be making more money but, as a percentage, I bet it's closer.
Let me explain further. Say a million people watch basketball, 20% are women, 80% are men and there is a million dollars in salary to be handed out. Say a half a million people watch tennis, 40% are women and 60% are men and there is a half million dollars in salary to be handed out. I think that the male basketball player would get $800k and the female player would get $200. With tennis I think the Male player would get $300k and the female would get $200k. The women in both these cases are making the same but comparatively the female tennis player is doing better. I'm not saying whether or not this is how it should work, I'm saying I think that this is how it tends to work.
I don't know how accurate it is but that's my theory.
So what's the cure? Get a lot of women to watch the HP Challenge.
Equal Pay for Women? The largest, highest paying Stage Race in America is a Women's race! Yes, the HP Women Challage(Ore-Ida) is the longest and best paid SR in America. 13 stages, $128,000 prize list, great web coverage... No American men's race even comes close! To bad there isn't better TV coverage...
Yes, there are more big men's events on the calendar as a whole. Until there are an equal number of women coming into the sport, this will always be true. There just isn't enough depth in the Women's ranks yet. When there are 200+ women at local races, then the pro ranks will expand...
I am responding to the letter on 'equal pay' by Melanie Barnes of Colorado Springs. Basically, she's right. She's also perceptive. Her analogy to college basketball and the hoopla surrounding the March Madness stuff is very on-target. I started out thinking much like the others who correctly point out that men are stronger, faster, and more interesting to watch.
But, look at tennis. I swear, watching a women's match just hasn't ever made it with me, since the damn ball is going so MUCH SLOWER than those slammed around by men. But women's pay there has made it. It made it because sponsors have obviously been getting bang for the buck somehow.
Melanie's points about 'why train and work so hard if we aren't to be compensatedÉ NOW' is also valid and, again, persuasive. She's right again.
"There's no doubt male and female cyclists are different, but it's a leap to claim that justifies rewarding them differently" OK folks, it's not much of a leap. Men's bike racing and women's bike racing are as different as night and day. To say that bike racing is bike racing and therefore both sexes should be rewarded equally is absurd. Why? consider the following: I raced a bike race over the weekend. I have my sponsors' logos on my body from head to toe. I raced against a big bunch of similarly skilled riders. The race was very competitive and fairly interesting tactically. There were spectators at the race. The results were published in news media. Now, should I receive the same prize as David Plaza did yesterday for his race performance at Tirreno Adriatico? (we both finished 9th). Obviously, no. David and I competed in entirely different events. The factors that I mentioned above were all present in David's race just like mine. What was different to justify David's prize money and overall compensation? The answer, of course, is obvious: Men's pro bike racing is big business. Millions of people watch on TV and read in print media. This level of public interest generates money.
Women's pro bike racing simply does not generate the level of public interest and thus the money is not there. I have heard the old argument again and again that "if you pump more money into a sport that few care about, it will grow and more people will care, generating more money, yaddayaddayadda". This is a myth. Sports have to be based on real public interest, not some kind of artificial government style support. 60 years ago, American Football was in its infancy, players made no real money, holding down real jobs to pay the bills while they played "professional" football. No-one stepped in and said "This isn't fair! These guys work harder than professional baseball players and they make less money! Let's force equality among these athletes" As the sport became more competetive, public interest grew, the sport grew, and today American Football players make loads of cash.
For all intents and purposes, Women's bike racing and Men's bike racing are different sports. They look the same, but they are simply not the same.
A governing body like the UCI stepping in and forcing equality for equality's sake will not help cycling. It will simply hurt the aspect of the sport that is currently strong and popular.
If I remember my greek correctly, the idea of competition was to seek the best. The best was sought after as a group. Certainly, one person found that best and they were praised for it. I wonder if there was a great celebration in praise of the humiliation heaped on another. Probably not.
This has been lost to a majority of sports folk today. In fact, there appears to be an entire species of athlete that feeds off the name calling and the almighty sponsor dollar . Normally, thats not a problem, good competition should make the athlete push to the utmost limit. Thats a good game.
Trash talk, and gender humiliation appear to be current norm. Did the greats (Merckx, Coppi, etc ) trash talk and have their rivals, certainly. Did they have a news conference and humiliate their opponent for the sake of being able to do it? Why not? BUT, when the wheels touched the ground, the game was on and they rode their hearts out. They rode because they did not want to get beat and they wanted to seek their best performance. Did that make other riders suffer? Certainly.
I believe, that a lot of that has been lost. In fact, much of the current focus is on money, wealth and reputation. Reputation for winning and getting sponsors, not, oh sh!t we are going to suffer today because Mr/Ms Balloon Lungs has shown up.
Thank you for your wishes. Here in the South-East of England, although we are not in an 'infected' area, things are more frustrating than anything else. All off road riding/racing is banned, whilst road riding is allowed, road racing is curtailed, mainly, it seems to stop people travelling from 'infected' areas to race. The frustrating thing is that although cycles are being prevented from travelling around, (all of us in great sympathy to farmers and their livelihoods agree to these measures) there are no curbs on motor vehicles, and their obviously greater range. Bizarrely, you can still play golf.
Simon Scarsbrook, VC Etoile
The last month's letters