As I write this, we are in the third week of the 2021 Tour De France. Mark Cavendish has made a remarkable comeback this year and has equalled Eddy Merckx record of 34 Tour De France Stage wins. If he succeeds in Paris he will break this record. It’s certainly something to shout about. Yet the sporting media has been so focussed on the Euro’s and England making the final, that his accomplishment has been completely overshadowed to everyone other than cycling fans.
And while this makes me sad, the truth is, this is what has been happening to women, in all sports, since the dawn of time. The only time we seem to get any decent media coverage is during the Olympics, and to be honest, that’s only be because they come back with the medals in the same events that men also compete in.
The media quote statistics that completely ignore any achievements of women in the same sports.
Take the football for example. Everyone quoted the fact that England haven’t made a major football final since 1966. But this simply isn’t true. England women’s national football team reached the UEFA Women’s championships final in 1984 & 2009….
Did you know that women’s football has been played in England for over 100 years? But it was banned by the men’s football association in the 1920’s – it appears that there may have been an element of jealousy regarding the crowds that the women’s teams attracted, although an altogether more ludicrous reason was given (football damaged women’s bodies!!!). Although the FA has now had a change of heart, the reality is still that women’s football finals are not played at National grounds, and the winners of the women’s FA cup receive just £25,000 prize money, compared to £1.8 million for the men’s teams. How often do you see the country go wild at the idea of women being in an international football final? The media could turn this around really easily, but they chose not to, citing that there is no interest.
So back to cycling, since this is a cycling blog.
Rouleur.cc is one of the few cycling media sources that is willing to stand up and address the differences in media coverage. For international women’s week, they dedicated an entire issue to women cyclists, and we praised them for it, despite silently knowing that it shouldn’t take a specially declared week for women to take pride of place in the media. But at least they tried, and a few others followed suit, by featuring articles either aimed at women, or written by them. Today they have highlighted the issue again, pointing out that Marianne Vos has made history with 30 Giro Rosa stage wins, and yet no one is shouting about it. It’s brilliant article and well worth a read https://www.rouleur.cc/blogs/the-rouleur-journal/opinion-marianne-vos-has-made-history-this-week-let-s-shout-about-it?_pos=2&_sid=e4c76c448&_ss=r
In cycling circles, especially with ultra riding, women are proving themselves to be equals with men, and Fiona Kolbinger winning the 2019 Transcontinental is proof of that. In such events there aren’t separate male and female races, it’s just one race. Whoever wins gets equal glory. In the case of Fiona, she got a huge amount of press, but not so much because of her amazing achievement, but because a woman had never one an event like that before. She completely knocked on it’s head the concept of women being the weaker sex.
And this year, another woman, Leah Goldstein, knocked any remaining preconceptions about a woman’s ability to endure on it head, by women the Race Across America solo race. And at 52 years old, she wasn’t only female, but older than most people would consider a winning athlete to be. She is the first woman to have won outright since the event began in 1982. Have you heard of her?
If we think there is an unfair bias here, consider that all these women are white. Women of colour get an even worse deal when it comes to competition and media coverage. Again, the Olympics are possibly the main exception.
So what can we do about it?
- Make some noise – If you see something that merits attention, shout about it. Post about it on social media, tell your friends, and talk about it. The more we spread the news, the more likely it is that mainstream media will pick up on it, and report. Prove that there is an interest in women’s sports. And, share it among your male contacts too. Celebrating all success should be normal, and it shouldn’t matter what sex or colour you are, but until we reach this point, then we need to shout louder, and make sure we are heard.
- Compete – So many events have only a handful of female competitors, especially long distance cycling. Fiona and Leah have proved that as women we are well equipped to suffer and endure without giving up, so enter that race that seems too hard, challenge yourself, and then shout about your success and be heard. We are so used to not wanting to highlight our achievements, that it can be very difficult to get the recognition that is deserved.
- Join the fight – there are many organisations petitioning, and campaigning for change across all areas of women’s sport. Some campaign for fairer funding, others for equal prize money. Get on board with the campaigns, or even just spread the word. Contact the media and ask them why they are not featuring your favourite women’s sport, make them aware that we want to see this too. Boycott misogynistic sponsors, although unless it’s a mass boycott, the effect could be very limited.
- Turn up, watch the sports that you want to see more widespread. It’s looking like there may actually be a women’s Tour de France next year, which of course will fail abysmally if the sponsorship and media coverage doesn’t come with it. If we don’t actually support women’s sport by watching the races, then nothing will change, and we prove the media right when they say that there is no interest.
The tide is very slowly turning, and in some cases great strides have been made. But equality within sports is still too slow, and equality for mainstream media coverage is practically non existent. I’m still not sure whether the media understands that there are any other sports than men’s football, men’s rugby, or men’s tennis. And I wonder whether any female Gold medal holders will make the front pages during the Olympics. Only time will tell.