Zwift, the turbo trainer game where cyclists use their bike to compete with others in a virtual environment, announced in Cycling Weekly that the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale – the governing body for sports cycling and international cycling events) will partner with Zwift in the first-ever E-Sports World Championships in 2020. It’s an inaugural event with unique characteristics – Zwift promises men and women will be racing, “the same number of races, over the same distances, with equal prize money.”
Cycling, particularly UCI & ASO road cycling events, have a long-standing history of showing slow progress in the way of equality. Other well-known road races, like the Tour de France by the ASO, often take one step forward and two steps back. The ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), part of a French media group, organizes races such as the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. La Course is a prime example of an ASO women’s race that gained ground in 2013 in pay parity and media coverage but later regressed – continuing as a one-day-only event. The ASO states in September, it will begin to create a women’s race equivalent to the Tour de France. The progress and regress of La Course is detailed in this article by Kathryn Bertine. Her film, Half the Road, also addresses inequality in the professional cycling universe.
UCI has promised minimum wages for UCI WorldTeam members in 2020 – increasing to the same pay as current Pro Continental male riders by 2023. I congratulate their efforts and acknowledgment. But in 2019, we have to ask ourselves, is this enough?
March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day I look forward to every year. It revitalizes me. Women around the world unite in emboldened refrains that we demand to be seen, heard, and most importantly, we deserve the same opportunities and rewards as the other half of the population. In 2019, brands like Trek and Specialized had fantastic content to celebrate females in the industry; I was pumped about all this exposure. I reposted the content on my social media pages for my cycling business.
The following day was the Strade Bianchi race – a well-known road race in Italy, a third of which features white gravel roads. My friend posted details on social media, and I decided to explore it online. My post-International Women’s Day bubble quickly burst. Unsurprisingly, the women’s course was nearly 50km shorter than the men’s, and prize money was €16,000 compared to the women’s €2,256. “Is this real life?” I asked myself, shocked at the disparity between male and female winnings.
Discouragingly, it is real life – for female athletes – in 2019. As witnessed this year, with another US Women’s Soccer World Cup win, cycling is not the only professional sport suffering this phenomenon. While the UCI is working towards gender equality, progress is seemingly slow in our fast-paced, already-behind-in-equality, world. What the UCI & ASO may not understand, is that by not giving women equal pay, courses and lacking media coverage, they are shooting themselves in the foot.
I am the UCI & ASO’s target audience. I’m a female cyclist who loves to absorb cycling content of all varieties. It’s always inspiring to watch badass women fight to cross the line. However, I have avoided watching UCI & ASO events, instead choosing to read online content after. Why? Because there aren’t many televised events where I can watch someone who looks like me. Further, it feels icky to spectate a sport that, when it comes to women, feels as though we are still crawling out of the dark ages. In other words, UCI, if you build it (now), we will come.
There are exceptions to my viewing rule. In 2017, Trek hosted the first CX World Cup to offer equal prize winnings and the same course for both genders – and the UCI took note. Trek’s leadership pressured the UCI to confront the parity problem. With Zwift (and, hopefully, more brands joining) the UCI & ASO may continue to feel the squeeze. If the UCI won’t deliver equality presently – on its own – at the very least, they partner with those who will.
I look forward to the era when, all-around, female cyclists will enjoy the same courses, equivalent exposure, and a wage that matches our male counterparts. Also, I pray it’s before 2023; haven’t women waited long enough?