Letters to Cyclingnews - March 27, 2001
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Francis De Cort has a snippet of opinion on all of our recent letters page topics, so we'll start off today with his offering that covers foot and mouth, women's cycling and the question of what constitutes sport. Since the latter subject is one of my favourites, I'm going to wade in again: Francis says cycling is definitely a sport because "cycling is so bloody hard that it must be a sport". Problem with that is that lots of things that are physically hard are not sports. Moving furniture, for example. Sports generally include a non-trivial physical ability and an element of competition. Chess isn't a sport because the skills it requires are mental, not physical. Golf includes a physical skill, and competition. Maybe someone should invent 'sprint golf' or 'extreme golf' to sort this out once and for all.
In the aftermath of Erik Zabel's win in Milan-San Remo Joe Lekovish wonders who is most successful lead-out man in the peloton. He notes Gian-Matteo Fagnini's role in both Zabel and Cipollini's wins. Who else do you rate, lead-out fans?
Jeff Tabor is not impressed with the self-centredness of many rider websites, including Bartoli's newly-launched site.
After the crash in the closing stages of Milan-San Remo, Joris Versteppen wonders what happened to the usual rule in these situations. We'll try and find out.
Finally, a smaller batch this time of letters on women's cycling. John Larson points out that people are confusing prize money with pay. Michel van Musschenbroek is thankful that more men and women are able to make a living from cycling that years ago. Colin Docker points out that equalising prize money didn't increase women's fields in triathlon. Steve Smull doesn't think equal prize money should be mandated by the UCI, even if it is a good idea. He wonders what would happen to entry fees if local races had to run equal prize lists and so the men's race had to subsidise the women's.
One thing that comes from this is an issue that's always puzzled me. I was involved in the 'early days' of mountain bike racing in the UK as a team manager, race promoter and (really bad) racer. The races I organised relied on sponsors for prizes - entry fees were all spent on event services. The way I saw it, I and my club were creating a product and that's what the entry fees were paying for - subsidising more talented racers wasn't part of the product. Given that races are generally funded by middling racers with no real hope of winning, and races are expensive to put on, why is it felt necessary to pay out so much of the available cash in prize money? I freely admit that the fact I was never even close to collecting any prize money may colour my viewsÉ
Foot and Mouth
What is Sport?
Francis De Cort
In light of Erik Zabel's win at MSR, it would be interesting to know the statistics on most successful lead-out man. It seems like Gian-Matteo Fagnini has had a big part in wins for both Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel.
While I am sure that Bartoli's comeback from the knee injury is quite remarkable and his return to the winners circle a great comeback story; however, I just visited his web site and I think the content of his web site tells cycling's true story. Everything is "my, my, my" never giving any credit to those that helped him get back to where he is today. David Millar's web site is not much better, but at least Bartoli has won some important races. I know the Postal boys had a lot to do with the rider web site craze, but even Lance's site is geared more to informing people about the sport of cycling and his other charitable causes. The self-named "Light Warrior" seems to care most about himself first and last. I found it rather sickening. Maybe the doping in cycling is just a symptom of the greater disease which is the self centered immaturity of its major stars such as VDB, Bartoli and Virenque.
What happened to the rule that any rider involved in a crash in the last kilometre is classified in the same time as the first rider of the group he was in before the crash happened?
Having read through some of the letters concerning the announcement to equalize prize money for men and women, I would like to point out a basic confusion which shows up in some of the emails.
Apparently many people are confusing "prize money" and "pay". I doubt there is any question in anyone's mind that one should get equal pay for equal work and that women racers work just as hard as their male counterparts. That said, I would like to say that think the UCI also tends to treat women unfairly be trying to "protect" them with shorter races, less hills, etc. Women racers are as good as the men and often times better depending on what level of racing you look at. Give women (and everyone else) the pay they merit. And ladies, keep on riding and fighting. Remember that there was a time when women racers outshined the men in the US.
Now, while it might be nice and perhaps "politically correct" to have equal prize money for men and women top level racers, I would like to pose the following question. If everyone should have equal prize money, where does that leave the poor old, amateur, lower level racers such as myself? Would anyone argue that we should have the same prize money as pro racers? I doubt it. The prize money available for our races as well as any others, is based on sponsorship. Several people have pointed out that if you want more prize money you need bigger, better sponsors, that goes for men's and women's races of all levels. We amateurs put just as much into our races as the pro's, perhaps more when you count in the hours spent training, work, family obligations, taking care of your own equipment, etc. and yet we race for a couple of dollars which barely pays for the entry fee and a tire or tube. Why do we do this? For love of the sport (or maybe as some have suggested, we really are all crazy). My point is that maybe equal prize money is not a realistic goal. Another way of looking at it is that not all races have the same amount of prize money and we do not think of this as wrong.
So, you want more money? Then as one writer suggested we need to generate more interest and attract more money. And yes, as another writer said, it is a "chicken or the egg" problem to some extent for all levels and genders. However, I don't think most people take up bicycle racing with the dream of getting rich, therefore I think it is somewhat false to say you need to increase the prize money to attract better riders. At least for the present time. I think we, (at least here in the US) need to worry more about expanding the base of available riders, (i.e. get more people involved, men women, children), educating the general public about racing and getting media coverage. The best example that comes to mind is the youth soccer leagues and how soccer has started to get some respect in the US. Expand the base and the level will take care of itself. Expand the media coverage and the prize money will take care of itself.
I have been in the sport for over twenty five years now. I did some competing, road and track, touring, and just plain transportation, with the greatest invention to "people kind".
When I was 13 I went to my first "non local" race. It happened to be in the province of Quebec, Canada. At the event there had to be over 200 men competing and less than 50 women. This trend of attendance remains quite similar in today's market. At local races there are a considerable amount of men outnumbering the woman. The money generated by men versus women is obvious. Although women outnumber the men worldwide, their participation in sports has never been as high.(generally)
Should they get equal pay. I think we need to define equal. Is it equal, based on percentages? Based on distance covered at particular speeds? Based on attendance in the race? Attendance at the event? Membership?
I am glad to see that men and women can make a living from cycling. There was a time when only the big time pros could. So before we argue that we are not providing equal pay, drawing poor attention to the sport. (I can't remember the event from last year, but a sponsor of an event was lost because of prize money for women, and the complaining of it.) Let's be thankful that it is a sport which supports women in the sport.
Maybe one day there will be an event that will put a stage race that has women and men competing individually, but the team portion of the event is based on the total team's time, men and women. At the end, the complete team will be presented the award and prize money.
So let's not complain or object until all the facts are in to why it is, and how to remedy it. This sport is taking enough jabs without fueling it. What we need to do is figure out how to get a half a million people to grace the roads of a stage race for 21 consecutive days outside of the European continent.
When that happens there will be a lot more money for everyone!
Michel van Musschenbroek
Clearly there are some strongly held views on the subject of equal prize lists. Let me offer an example from here in UK, where triathlon introduced equal prizes for Grand Prix/major elite races some years ago. The net result is no significant increase in the women's field sizes, and a good deal of concern from the men, who see a ratio of at least 6:1 men:women competing for identical prize lists. Equalising prize lists has not achieved the expected result, only one which could perhaps have been foreseen. Whilst I do not condone lowering prize lists for women's events, or even placing them in proportion to entry levels, there is a case for steadily increasing the levels from the often derisory level seen in women's cycle races. In the end market forces come into play. Having run major/international races for some years, every time I have attempted to include a women's race in the program, the support from female competitors has been so poor that the whole enterprise has lost a lot of money, and other categories can end up subsidising one race. This can't be right. That said if a sponsor wants to pay the money, I'm willing to put the prizes up - just let's take a realistic and pragmatic approach. If the UCI or anyone else tries to impose conditions that don't seem reasonable, I simply won't promote, a net loss of racing which will help nobody. And lastly, I have noticed that not many people here in UK seem terribly exercised about the subject, while lots of your USA correspondents are. Am I missing something here?
Women are equal to men as human beings. Better prizes for women is a great idea. They certainly shouldn't be subjected to receiving table scraps as is often the case!
Women are not inferior because their physical construction is different and therefore athletic performance is different. Their races are not necessarily inferior as a result of less speed. The women's race could easily be the best race at any given event based on other more subjective criteria, such as an incredible effort by the winner, teamwork, or spectator interest.
That being said, cycling sponsorship is another issue entirely.
Women deserve big prize lists! So do men, juniors and masters. The burden falls on race promoters to come up with the goods, and it should be up to the race promoters to decide how the prizes are distributed in their events. Educating race promoters as to the benefits of increasing women's prize lists is a good thing. But the government of cycling forcing them to pay 50 per cent of the prizes to a much smaller than 50 per cent fraction of the competitors (women) is not necessarily an equitable solution.
At present, there are fewer women competing than men. An infusion of cash might help interest in women's racing to some extent, but where would this cash come from? It would come from the men's events. Is it fair that a race with 25 riders has the same prize list as the race with 100 riders, so in effect the men will be riding for less prizes than the women? The men would have to distribute the same funds over greater numbers of riders.
Another issue if this idea is taken to the local level, is what would happen to entry fees? If the women suddenly had equal prizes, promoters would be forced to jack up their entry fees as they do to the top level men's events. The already low attendance at women's events might be further reduced by increasing entry fees. If the goal is to encourage new women racers, this might not have the desired effect in a situation where there often are not enough female competitors to even have two groups of women racing. A new woman racer forced to race in an event with no chance of recovering her entry fees against experienced racers might think twice about paying that entry fee.
Government intervention is almost always a bad solution. I think a better solution would be to generate interest in women's racing with sponsors, as was done with women's tennis. As is being done at the HP Challenge! Sponsors targeting specific events will be INSPIRED to promote large prize lists for those events, because it is their idea to do so.
Education is the key. When promoters realize that women's races are interesting to sponsors, they can sell this idea to the sponsors. When the sponsors are convinced to put up equal money for women, you have a winning solution. No one can argue with additional funding coming from sponsors who specify that it should go to the women!
The last month's letters