It will take time to close the gender pay gap in cycling

Alistair Nitz Roar Rookie

By Alistair Nitz, Alistair Nitz is a Roar Rookie


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    Is it so unreasonable that women get something close to parity in terms of prize money? (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

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    Just days after the completion of the 2017 edition of the Tour de France, The Daily Mail, an English newspaper, exposed the huge pay gaps between professional male and female cyclists.

    The headline said it all. The men received over £2 million ($3.2m) compared to £24,500 ($40,000) for women.

    The article ran just weeks after the BBC uncovered a huge gender pay gap between their top stars.

    Gender pay disparity is a very topical issue across the globe. It is seen as society undervaluing women and remains a serious blight, impacting most cultures.

    Women’s treatment in sport has always been a function of wider gender inequality in society. Women have in the past suffered from fewer opportunities to play sport, had to endure poorer facilities, were objectified on the field and had inadequate coaching.

    Pay inequality just adds another limb to the constant problems that women face in sport. Who can forget the then world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic commenting that male tennis players deserves more money because the spectators love them more?

    Times are changing. The US Tennis Open was the first tennis major to introduce equal pay among the sexes in 1973. It then took 28 years for another grand slam tournament to breach the glass ceiling and bring the prize money for men and women into alignment.

    Now all four grand slams have introduced pay equity.

    So it was not surprising that The Daily Mail splashed across their pages the huge prize money disparity between the men and the women that participated at the Tour de France and women’s La Course.

    The men’s prize money for the Tour de France was around £2 million while the women’s race, La Course, was less than a measly £25,000 or around 1.25 per cent of what male cyclists received.

    While the article was factually correct, it was far from being balanced. The journalist at The Daily Mail only zeroed into one factor behind the huge gap – women only race over two stages compared to 21 stages for the men.

    But there are other factors behind the disparity that were not pursued. These include limited media coverage, low income from broadcast rights and limited sponsorship dollars.

    After the La Course race, Britain’s Lizzie Deignan from team Boels Dolmans, ‘who was the top earner with £8,500, complained the women were made to feel like “a bit of an afterthought” by ASO, the organisers of both races.

    ‘At first I was like “what are we a circus?”,’ said Deignan to The Daily Mail. She went on to tell The Daily Mail that “there needs to be changes in modern cycling. We got exposure today but it’s not where it needs to be – behind the scenes, in terms of logistics, we were left wondering what was going to happen at times but I enjoyed the crowds. It’s not something we get that often.”

    The journalist missed the point of the quotes from Deignan, which were targeted at the new course and the number of stages being increased to two. Many women participants were not impressed that the course was moved away from the Champs-Élysées where they were welcomed by huge crowds and extended media coverage.

    Deignan comments were less about the wage or prize money parity, but more to do about the course.

    These two issues are common problems in women cycling. In fact, women cyclists on the professional circuit have been asking for three things for a long time: the same course as the men, the same media coverage and financial parity.

    Unfortunately there is no minimum wage that need to be met by UCI-registered women’s team. This is likely to be the case for several years while the UCI continues to improves its racing calendar and ensuring there is more stable financial base for teams and race organisers. The UCI does, however, set minimum prize money for sanctioned events, which is also substantially less than men’s races.

    As Anne-Marije Rook pointed out in her 2016 article in CyclingTips, an online cycling journal, unless you are a high provide female athlete like Marianne Vos, the majority of female cyclists on the WorldTour support themselves with a part-time job, a supportive spouse and/or frugal living.

    The Daily Mail is part of the problem, not the solution by shining a blowtorch just on pay disparity.

    If the paper really wants to help close the financial gap than it should become an advocate for women’s cycling and provide comprehensive coverage of female cycling events on its main pages. But like most media companies, to often its cycling commentary is an afterthought and a poor second cousin to its comprehensive football and cricket coverage.

    Everyone recognises that there is a gap in prize money, and it needs to closed. Everyone knows that female need to be better paid. But it will take time.

    The last couple of years has seen some positive movements in the prize money of women’s cycling.

    The Prudential RideLondon Classique offered prize money of €100,000, the richest race in the women’s cycling calendar. Likewise, the women’s Tour de Yorkshire is one of the most lucrative races on the women’s race calendar, and according to The Guardian, the 2016 winner received a larger purse than the male winner.

    France's Pauline Ferrand Prevot

    (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

    Unfortunately, it is not replicated across the women’s WorldTour calendar. The winner’s purse from the RideLondon Classique was more than 20 times the amount received by the winner of the 2017 Giro Rosa, which is a ten stage event.

    What makes the difference between the UK races and the other WorldTour races that have poor prize purses? It comes down to the UK races having a naming sponsor as well as receiving comprehensive live TV coverage, both on Eurosport and free to air.

    Unfortunately the majority of women’s cycling events do not have these income streams.

    Forcing the cycling event organisers to introduce pay equality now is likely to have a detrimental impact on female cycling and reverse the gains that have been made since the introduction of the women’s WorldTour calendar.

    With the lack of sponsorship and broadcast income for most female events, the profits of most race organisers will be reduced if pay equity is enforced or they could even make a financial loss, placing both male and female events into jeopardy.

    The UCI and event organisers are aware they need to put prize money for women on a par with men’s racing. Achieving this will require increased media coverage and more commercial investment. Exactly what the UK races have in their favour. However, if race organisers can provide an extra hour of television coverage for each of the women’s WorldTour events it will open up new markets for business to invest.

    The likes of The Daily Mail could also increase their coverage of all women event on the WorldTour. Not just ad hoc gender pay disparity articles.

    Female cyclists are no doubt aspiring to achieve the same pay outcome as their tennis sporting colleagues. It took world tennis decades to achieve this. Cycling will be no different.

    Race organisers are not in a position to deliver on these aspirations immediately. There is no magic pudding. Improving the attraction for the rapidly developing women’s cycling scene to obtain live TV coverage will take time.

    Increased media coverage will show just how exciting women’s cycling is and then the commercial investment will follow. Suddenly we will see the gender pay gap start to narrow.

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    The Crowd Says (10)

    • August 12th 2017 @ 4:35am
      matt jones said | August 12th 2017 @ 4:35am | ! Report

      pay equality is if they race against the men. also if people instead wanted to watch womens cycling – which wont happen. thats lofe

    • Roar Guru

      August 12th 2017 @ 8:49am
      Sam Brown said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      Pay equity in any sport is a curious topic because sport, by its nature is about showing that all humans are not equal and is completely predicated on someone rising above everyone else. The funding of sport, especially cycling is also completely determined by the number of people watching it and how desirable the athletes are to sponsor.

      Now practically I think at a pro level the UCI should ensure that all females racing in the top teams are able to do it full time and are paid a comfortable wage, however I’m not so certain that equal pay for equal work makes sense at the very top level of the sport.

      Does the winner of the Giro Ditalia get paid as much as the winner of the Tour De France? No. Even though they are both gruelling 3 week races one just gets more media attention and sponsorship than the other so of course it is more lucrative.

      Does Chris Froome get paid the same as his domestique? No, he is a more lucrative rider to have signed so he earns more.

      Once a base wage is established what I think women’s cycling should be campaigning for is equal media coverage not equal pay. If they are as exciting and talented as they claim then all they should need to earn the pay is the coverage, if they are presenting a product that is worth it then people and therefore sponsors will jump on board

      For an example of this look at Ronda Rousey in MMA. It took a while for women to gain entry into the UFC however once afforded the platform because of her skills, talent and the way she entertained people, for a good stretch of time she was the biggest name in that sport in either gender and she was paid more than anyone else too. She campaigned for the platform and exposure and once there used it to earn that extra pay.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 10:22pm
        Alistair Nitz said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

        You raise very valid points Sam. I understand that individuals in cycling receive different salaries and the winner’s pay check differs between races. This occurs in most team sports. Bryce Gibbs earns more than Charlie Curnow.

        However, unlike other sports, the gulf between men’s cycling and women’s cycling is huge. Some of that is reflected in the difference in the stages of the course between female and male cycling. For example let’s compare Marianne Vos’ winnings and salary compared to Froome or even Sagan. I suspect there is no comparison.

        I understand the reason behind the difference. The media can, and should, play a more active role. Then suddenly we might see the gap change.

        • Roar Guru

          August 12th 2017 @ 10:25pm
          Sam Brown said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

          Agreed, I love cycling, have watched tons of it since I got into it in 2011 but the first female race I watched was La Coursa simply because it wasn’t on any other times. Was a great race, way better than the stage the men rolled out later in the evening but I’d simply never had a chance to see them before because they didn’t get the coverage..

    • August 12th 2017 @ 6:20pm
      Hawkeye said | August 12th 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

      Its false to claim that the gender pay gap in sport is equivalent to those in regular jobs. All sport relies on generating revenue that is then reflected in athletes pay. The bottom line is that men’s and women’s cycling are two independent products and therefore revenue streams. Women’s cycling incomes reflect the generation of revenue within that industry.
      Tennis pays it’s women well mainly due to the high profile status an income of the sport in its own right. Men’s cycling is far too precarious financially to subsidise the women’s side.
      Cricket is in effect doing this (admirably), but only can due to its good financial health. It’s all well and good to want equity in pay but the money has to come from somewhere, and the sport needs to generate the cash itself.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 10:25pm
        Alistair Nitz said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

        I agree with you Hawkeye. However if the media played a more active role in covering women’s cycling than it may lead to an increase in commercial investment which will start to close the gap.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 8:14pm
          tyrone said | August 13th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

          Even if there was as much shown on TV I doubt the royalties from TV stations would be the same value and other income to the sport would also be lower.

          Look at weekend riders clothes, how many mens team kits are out on a Saturday compared to women?

          Equal pay is a great concept but if it occurs are we celebrating for women or should we be upset that Men are not getting paid the same percentage of revenue as the now high paid women.

          Percentages of total income is the only fair way to decide pay

    • August 16th 2017 @ 2:52am
      Mad Dog said | August 16th 2017 @ 2:52am | ! Report

      At the risk of being chased with torches and pitchforks, how is the tennis system fair when men play best of 5 sets whereas women play best of 3?

      • September 19th 2017 @ 11:29am
        Betty B said | September 19th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

        my guess is that both are working at 100% effort, 100% endurance capacity – so in that sense they’re equal.

    • September 28th 2017 @ 6:07am
      NaBUru38 said | September 28th 2017 @ 6:07am | ! Report

      Sponsor and TV money depends in viewership. And like it or not, fan interest in women’s sport is often much smaller than for men’s sport.

      Of course, the lack of interest in women’s sport is often caused by the lack of media exposure. The Olympics, swimming, tennis, volleyball and field hockey bring a lot of media exposure to women, but other sports don’t, most notable football, basketball and cycling.

      So fans have a lot to do with inequalify. But sports federations and promoters can do a lot to increase equality. For example, tennis should have more mixed tournaments, like the Hopman Cup. Cycling could try mixed relay races.

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