I’ll be covering the track racing over the coming days and am looking forward to it. But there’s one thing to cover first, the way women get unequal treatment in the sport.
The opening ceremony of the London games featured scenes from Britain’s past including a tribute to the women who fought for the right to vote and later several women were flag carriers for the Gulf states, a first for the region. But if the struggle for equality is celebrated by some there are still parts of the games were men and women are not treated equally.
Cycling is one such sport and this blog doesn’t cover the others. Cycling is at a halfway point, the 2012 games are the first to award an equal amount of medals to the men and women but women are still riding shorter distances and have smaller team sizes. Should things be equal, can things be equal?
First what is this inequality? Well it’s the distance of the races and the size of the teams. Here’s a summary:
|Team Sprint||3 laps, 3 riders||2 laps, 2 riders|
|Team Pursuit||4,000m, 4 riders||3,000m, 3 riders|
That should give you an idea, it goes further within the omnium race and we have seen a smaller field for the women’s races too. It doesn’t sit right with the UCI constitution. Here’s Article 3:
The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of:
a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination;
Can things be equal?
Yes although for me the road race is different event so let’s get this out of the way. Women can race 25okm but such distances are not needed, indeed we could question why the men race so long (tradition, a legacy of the old days when some races were 400km long?) but that’s for another day. One factor at play is the “pee break”. Now the road race is so long in distance and time that men stop to urinate mid-race and there are some rules to require riders do it out of sight; if they are spotted peeing within sight of roadside spectators then they’re usually fined. For women the task is harder, they can’t do it whilst riding and even stopping is harder, they have to climb off the bike. Now women racers probably don’t have a problem with this but sections of the public do and it is a factor cited by race organisers. But the road race is the exception.
Things are more contrasting in the time trial. If the men did 44km earlier today then why can’t the women also do the same distance? Nobody really knows, it seems the distance of the race is a function of your gender. In mitigation women’s races are often shorter so an Olympic time trial of 44km could be a longer effort than many women are used to during the season but this invites questions about the result of the calendar.
Instead the biggest questions are for the velodrome. Why are the team sizes for the team sprint and team pursuit reduced by one for the women? Why is the distance reduced? Here it seems there’s a classic case of discrimination at work and worse, it means a man has a higher chance of getting a medal because they have a greater chance of being selected as the squad size is larger.
There are two ways to take this:
- it’s 2012 and outrageous that women aren’t given equal treatment in track cycling. Take athletics or swimming and the women don’t get shorter events than the men, from the 100m sprint to the marathon everyone is equal, except for the hurdles and the heptathlon/decathlon.
- cycling has been so much worse in the past that 2012 is an improvement. In Beijing there were more events for men than women and this has now been remedied.
So there’s something to cheer but it still seems wrong that women get shorter events when there’s little, except for tradition, to insist on this.
When road race silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead criticised the UCI for sexism in the sport the governing body’s spokesman replied the UCI is “doing everything we can” to raise the profile of women’s cycling. “What we cant do is to impose on a sponsor to do something,” Mr Carpani told Bloomberg. “You can’t force a private company to do something.”
We can all celebrate the racing but there’s clear discrimination between men and women. At least there’s an equality in the number of medals so we should applaud the IOC and UCI for progress. But all the same, it’s 2012 and change seems to come slowly. Maybe a few women are grateful for only having to do 140km in a road race but it’d be easier to organise a time trial over the same distance for men and women alike.
But it’s the track where things look odd. The idea of smaller teams and shorter distances in the velodrome seems more than old-fashioned, it’s strange. Especially since it can be easily fixed. If the UCI is “doing all it can“, here’s hoping it does more in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016. If not the IOC should consider forcing it to change.