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Sexism in cycling by Alys Masters

Sexism in cycling by Alys Masters

Sexism in Cycling:

This week the cycling world was shaken by a storm that has been brewing for years in the British Cycling headquarters in Manchester. The dismissal of Jess Varnish from the Olympic podium programme earlier this month provided a spark that lit a fire that’s been on the horizon for decades. Sexism in sport has been a well published issue dating back through the decades and the allegations made by Jess Varnish about Shane Sutton and British Cycling have finally brought the issue to light in the international press. Varnish has claimed that when she questioned the decision taken by the British Cycling coaching team not to renew her contract she was told that she was “too old” and that she should “just move on and get on with having a baby.” Both British Cycling and Shane Sutton have publicly denied these claims. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has had any involvement with cycling that there is, still, a sexist culture, a sexist culture which goes far beyond individuals or even sporting bodies.

Nicole Cooke, who is well known for fighting gender inequality in sport outlined the issues almost perfectly earlier this week. Cooke pointed out the diversity seen at the London marathon and the uproar that would follow if the men’s event got more coverage or held lesser rewards. In cycling this is a bleak reality. Gender inequality is so imbedded in the sport at such a simple grass root level that it’s simply un-avoidable. Whilst individual parties cannot be blamed it is up sporting bodies to do their best to reduce to inequality between men and women, which is all fairness British Cycling have done with high success. Cooke talks about cycling being “sexism by design” which is partly true.

For example Cooke talked about how the team sprint for women comprises of 2 women over 500m, whilst for men it’s 3 men over 1km. The reason for this is in fact the low participation levels of women at an elite level in cycling meaning that the vast majority of teams could not field women’s teams. Both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 road race test events were run only for men with women just being offered seats in the team cars- there is no excuse for this and it is a perfect example of how women are treated as second class citizens in cycling.

Sexism exists right at the root of cycling the world over; and is something that I’m sure all female cyclists have experienced at some point. A perfect example would be the simple fact at the majority of track and road events organized up and down the countries do not have women only races and more often than not no racing for women at all.

The first time that I personally experienced sexism was at a local race when after I had finished third in the under 16’s category but only the boys and the 1st place girl had been allowed onto the podium to receive medals – I was distraught because I could not comprehend how my achievement was any less, just because I was a girl. Great strides are being made by British Cycling and other sporting bodies to reduce this sexism with British Cycling launching talent searches for women and also the breeze programme aimed at getting women involved in the sport at all levels. So progress is being made but it will be a long time until men and women are equal in cycling – which quite frankly I think is tragic.