There are a number of people complaining that the women’s World Championship road race this past Saturday was not sufficiently exciting to watch. I’m sorry; did you confuse the race with your Netflix queue? The race happened the way it did because that is how the race happened. The racers shouldn’t have to implement tactics to make it more “interesting” to watch. I find baseball to be excruciatingly dull, but I am not going to say the the pitcher should be required to juggle and sing while also doing his job just so I am entertained. That is why Gossip Girl is streamed online.
Somehow this conversation – like every other that relates to women in cycling – has circled back into the dialogue about equality in our sport. Equality is good. I don’t believe a professional male racer is better or worth more than me simply because he’s a dude. Frankly, his parts look weirder than mine and I probably smell better. But I am pragmatic and outside of my cycling career, I work in business, an industry where nothing happens “on principle” or just because it’s right. Business is impersonal, fiscally-motivated, and controlled by economic logic. Because that’s the mindset in which I operate so much of the time, it is also the basis on which I form my opinions on the current conversation about women’s cycling.
Here is what I believe. Women racers are equal to men racers. Not better, not worse, not any more or less interesting to watch or support. Women racers are more interesting to me because [a] I am one, so they are my peers (hahaha Marianne Vos is my peer, lemme just marinate in that fantasy for a sec), and [b] economic and life factors have led a majority of women racers to be highly educated and have fascinating careers outside of cycling. Lawyers, scientists, doctors, PhD students, etc. It adds depth to these racers that I find compelling.
I also believe that women’s teams should not have salary minimums. Yes, there are men’s teams that do and it’s unfortunate that our sport and the surrounding industry isn’t such that women’s teams are equal. But if you enforce salary minimums, then what happens to the teams that can’t afford to meet them? They go away. The last thing professional women need is fewer teams.
I believe the same thing about race prize purses. If an event offers equal payout, then that event is AWESOME and I want to support and praise it. But if an event can’t (and, as the treasurer of a cycling club that puts on races, I do know that sometimes there simply isn’t the money), I don’t want the event to disappear entirely. I’d still like a chance to race, and for other people to have that chance as well. I don’t want to punish other racers – pro or amateur – just because it’s not a fair situation. I’d rather show up and speak up and ask for better in the future. It is so wonderful that the NCC races in 2015 are required to have equal prize purses for men and women, but I’m also afraid that the calendar will lose some beloved events that couldn’t afford to pay out that money. I want equality, but I also want racers and spectators all over the country to have opportunities to be engaged in our sport, and losing events works against that.
My underlying feeling is that there must be economic drivers for everything. It is not enough to just ask for financial equality, because that doesn’t answer the question of where to get that money. I don’t want teams and events to disappear because we legislated monetary requirements that they can’t meet. I think the conversation should be about how to enhance and display the value of women’s cycling to both the industry and the world so that the price tag represents something tangible. We have the supply; now we need to show why there should be demand.
That doesn’t mean the women should throw away their races in pursuit of putting on a show. I think it means creating race events and courses that are interesting to spectators. Finding ways to engage the audience and showcase the athletes to give fans somebody to cheer on. Convincing our governing bodies within the sport that they must see women as equal to men. At a personal level, racers should work to engage people and sponsors outside of cycling. Create fans, don’t wait for them to come to us. Calling for equality is a start, but developing a sound, fiscally-logical approach for reaching it is the only next step that will actually work.