Equal pay is a hot topic in ‘cross. Most of you seem to have a strong opinion on this subject, and we’re here to publish both sides. With the recent news of the huge women’s payouts at the Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival and our story on UCI minimum payouts, we’ve received some personal commentary. First up is from up-and-coming espoir ‘crosser Evan Bybee.
Equal payout for men and women cyclocross racers (and any racer in any discipline for that matter) is quite a big deal. It has been one of the hot topics not only in cycling, but many other sports around the globe for a couple years now. The Swatch TTR FIVE STAR Nissan X-Trail Nippon Open Snowboarding Competition in Japan, The Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and now the Cincinnati UCI3 Cyclocross Festival are just a few examples of major sporting events in which both top men and women achieve the same outcome as far as a financial reward.
Why shouldn’t men and women get paid equal amounts? As far as we all know it costs the same amount to get to the events, equipment costs the same, and entry fees are the same amount. The prestige, in most minds, is the same. So why aren’t all sporting events in which men and women compete in separate gender categories the same? The answer to this is progression. The activity of sport started thousands of years ago, in which men and only men competed. It was not only frowned upon for women to compete, it was unheard of. Death was often the punishment for women who disguised themselves as men to compete.
The world saw women compete in the Olympics as early as 1900, however, in very few events and in very few numbers. Professional women’s leagues did sprout up throughout the 20th century only to fizzle out within a few years. While men’s sports continued to dominate and flourish, women still sought after equality in society let alone in sports.
Men’s sports have had not only time on their side, but also society. Time to progress and society to urge them on. Only in recent years (1990’s-now) have women seen success in professional sports. With only 20 years of professionalism behind women, it’s awe inspiring to look at our women who compete now and to look at where they all came from.
It’s honestly a great sight to see women achieve equal pay in racing. Not only is this good for the progression of women’s rights, but it’s good for the general progression of the sport. Equal pay means greater opportunities for more sponsors, more money and more participants. Granted, in a down economy, this can be a challenge, but all of these things generate interest which in turn generates prestige, which in turn generates progression. With the sport progressing, people may notice and want to start to race. Isn’t this the goal? And with more entrants creating revenue for the promoters and sponsors, this could mean sponsors might want to return the following years to help out. That’s exactly what this sport needs in times like these. It’s a cycle. Are you dizzy yet?
The opposing argument is that women’s racing doesn’t attract the same spectator draw and isn’t as deep. The smaller fields can warrant a few number of prizes, as the Ohio weekend has done. But while the spectator draw for women at some events may be lower, it’s a viscous cycle as well. In the states, where ticket sales or TV rights aren’t the backbone of a race promoter’s financial model, how much does this argument hold water? I’d be willing to bet you’d still see the same amount of race coverage on Cyclocross Magazine, giving sponsors as much value. And it’s clear that if you have a good calendar date and offer higher prize money, the top talent will come out. It’s no coincidence that Katie Compton is making the trip to Ohio for a rare domestic racing appearance. And although Compton often dominates her races, one only needs to notice the continuing buzz ten years later over Daniele Pontoni’s dominant debut on U.S. soil to realize that domination by a champion can be riveting for spectators as well.
Progression is what it’s all about. Without progression, sports die. We must strive to be progressive. Equal pay for men and women is only one factor in this very long and complicated equation. We are just beginning to see the wheels turn.
Disagree with Bybee? Think he’s wise beyond his years? Send us your response and if well-written, we’ll publish it.