Opinion: Time to be bold for change in women’s cycling

Every year, International Women’s Day brings us a new theme to be inspired. This year the theme was around being bold for change (#BeBoldForChange). A worthy aim, so as International Women’s Day slips off into the sunset around the world, let’s not also let the drive to make a difference…

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Every year, International Women’s Day brings us a new theme to be inspired. This year the theme was around being bold for change (#BeBoldForChange). A worthy aim, so as International Women’s Day slips off into the sunset around the world, let’s not also let the drive to make a difference fade after this one day. In that spirit I’m going to be bold and call on cycling to take on a year of change for women in the sport.

Change processes can easily become pretty complex, because at the end of the day you are dealing with humans. And humans are complex beasts. Like nailing a race outcome, change is more likely to happen when you plan and prepare for it. So what’s the vision for change?

There are of course many aspects of women’s cycling ripe for change. As I was finishing off this piece I saw a great article from Kath Bicknell, also inspired by the call to be bold for change, with a focus largely on media and industry. My focus, coloured by my background and experience, has gone in a slightly different direction.

My vision is to see cycling progress towards equality, utilising equity measures where necessary, and to take action that improves respect for women in cycling. Here are some of the important ways I think cycling could be bold for change in 2017, including objectives and short term KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to keep everyone focussed on the intermediate sprint line:

1. Diversify leadership

Objective: To increase the number of women in leadership positions in cycling.

There is an enormous body of evidence supporting the benefits of diversity in leadership. Yet cycling’s leadership continues to be dominated by men, with poor representation of women and minority groups. Despite Cycling Australia’s financial troubles over the past years, the organisation has yet to meet the requirements set out by their main funding source, the Australian Sports Commission’s mandatory governance principles. These mandatory governance measures require national sporting federations to have a minimum 40% representation of women on the board. A great opportunity to address the imbalance last month fell short when three men were recruited to the board, including former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks.

While failing to meet the standards of the Australian Sports Commission, at 33% Cycling Australia fares well when compared to the UCI Management Committee. Their webpage lists 17 members (15 plus two co-opted positions). Just one of those, Tracey Gaudry, is female. That’s a representation of 6%.

UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry (left) and president Brian Cookson (centre) congratulating Bridie O’Donnell when she set a new hour record last year.

This lack of diversity is considered poor governance and limits the potential of cycling. Changing this will take some time. But there’s no time like now to commit.

Suggested 2017 KPIs:

  • For each confederation to have at least 40% of membership by women by 2021. The appointment of Leeanne Grantham to the Oceania Confederation in January is a good start.
  • For the UCI Management Committee to commit to increasing the number of female representatives by setting targets. If the UCI added just two women to the management committee, the representation would increase by 200%. I know, that sounds crazy, and would only bring the share of women up from 6% to 18%. But that’s an exciting achievement that looks and sounds good and is achievable. Every election increase the ratio again. Set the targets now and commit to them.

2. Introduce measures to address the pay gap

Objective: To build and commit to the business case for a minimum wage on WWT teams.

A core platform for UCI President Brian Cookson’s 2013 election campaign was his commitment to introducing a minimum wage for women. This was not successful, with Cookson pointing to the UCI Women’s Commission advice that the cost-benefits did not stack up. That was back in 2014 with Cookson at the time believing the introduction to be a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ sort of thing.

If that’s the case, it is probably time to revisit the concept and re-test the scenario of a sporting body to be the chicken (or the egg). There are some great economic minds within cycling, and with a growing fan base and increasing demands on WWT teams to become even more professional, the minimum wage must come back on the table.

The minimum wage is the minimum first step. Equal pay matters, according to the United Nations, and within the professional women’s cycling scene the issues from failing to adequately pay women for expecting to work as professionals are significant. Let’s acknowledge we cannot change this overnight, but let us also take a step towards addressing this by committing to a long term vision that progresses the sport towards this goal

Suggested 2017 KPIs:

  • Develop the business case and a roll out plan that commits to a minimum wage for women in the WWT by 2019 (or even better, 2018).

3. Equal Prize Money

Objective: To continue the roll out of the UCI equal prize money policy across all WT/WWT events.

Aside from the obvious ethics and human rights around paying women and men the same prize money, the continued examples of prize money disparity is an ongoing PR issue for cycling.


Cycling must consider the impact on recruiting new fans when such inequalities continue to exist. As a mother of two young girls, it is natural to expect my daughters to have the same experiences in sport as their young male friends. When I see the professional women treated in such a way, I wonder if I should take out a race licence for my daughters, or sign them up to sports committed to change such as tennis, triathlon, football or cricket?

Suggested 2017 KPIs:

  • Where there are aligned WT and WWT events, they must offer equal prize money in 2018.

4. Address the exploitation and abuse of women in cycling

Objective: To build a more inclusive and safe culture for women in cycling.

Over the past few months there have been an increasing number of women speaking out about their experiences in cycling. It is raw and shocking stuff.

Addressing the conditions which enable the exploitation and abuse of women requires a greater understanding of the contributing forces within the sport’s culture. There have been so many articles drawing attention to this issue recently, just a few are Jessica Varnish’s sexism claims which created turmoil in British Cycling, Genevieve Jeanson’s troubling recount of her experiences and former world champion Petra de Bruin speaking out about the sexual abuse she endured as a young cyclist.

Petra de Bruin. Picture by CorVos

Instances of abuse of women in cycling should not be news to the UCI. There has been a history of abuse, and most recently the 2015 Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) reported in its

“The Commission was told that women’s cycling had been poorly supported in past years,
and was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even
allegedly sexually.” – CIRC Report, 2015, p70

Responses to these recent allegations have been led by investigations by UK Sport, the announcement of a study by the Dutch Cycling Federation, and initial research by Victoria University in Australia.*

These issues are seen across the entire spectrum of the sport. The challenge for all of us involved in the sport is to consider how we build our understanding of the contributing factors and to take action to prevent these things from happening again.

Suggested 2017 KPIs:

  • To take these allegations seriously – at all levels.
  • Develop recommendations and actions to address the issues raised in the investigations.

5. Committing to coverage

Objective: To build on the value proposition of the Women’s WorldTour through consistent coverage.

I remember sitting in a stakeholder meeting around women in sport in 2015, discussing challenges to improving sport for women. A representative from the Australian Football League (AFL) said, ‘don’t even think about increasing TV coverage for women. The AFL, Australia’s dominant sport, has just signed a $6 billion deal which will absorb most of the coverage opportunities for the next six years’. The AFL Women’s league (AFLW) was not on the radar back then. When I look back on that comment now, against a current climate of significant investment by the AFL into the AFLW with free-to- air television coverage and fabulous ratings, I know that opinions cannot be misinterpreted as fact. There is a growing audience that wants women’s sport. But you have to be ready to get it out there.

The women’s event at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race, had live TV coverage this year. Picture by CorVos.

In January 2017 the Women’s Tour Down Under featured a television highlights package that was scheduled to be shown three weeks after the event. It’s uncomfortable to read comments by an event organiser that ‘live TV is always great, but as you know, it is expensive’ while enormous budgets over time have been committed to build the interest and coverage of the men’s side of the race. The TDU and Women’s TDU are Government-owned events in a State that values gender equality. Justifying the lack of investment in the women’s product as being too expensive shows a bias in the attitudes of those with the capacity to lead change. But just like in AFL, attitudes can change quickly.

Suggested 2017 KPIs:

  • Investigate mechanisms, including option such as infrastructure investment, cross-promotions, incentives and penalties (if necessary) for events to provide television and live stream coverage of women’s cycling, ready for policy roll out and implementation in 2018 for all WT and WWT events.

[ct_highlight_box_start]Monique Hanley has raced on the pro women’s cycling circuit and was a Cycling Victoria board member for six years. She is also a researcher and has long been a vocal, active and tireless advocate for women’s cycling.[ct_highlight_box_end]

*Full disclosure: in late 2016 and early 2017 I contributed to some background research by Victoria University

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