Welcome to the edition in which we discuss that slipperiest of business words, “sustainability”. This is the second of three things that I’ve suggested we take into consideration as we look at changing our expectations and goals with respect to team structures in women’s cycling. The first was the idea of professionalism and the last will be on the need for optimism, but for today we get to try and wrestle sustainability out of the realm of buzz-word and into the light of a clear objective.
Sustainability is one of those great words because it carries with it a lot of possible meanings, and it sounds like a good and right thing, but it has the benefit of not really pinning us down to anything too specific. So we can say we like sustainability without feeling like we have to do anything in particular in order to be sustainable.
I think that maybe partly this is because at the moment we use the term mostly when we’re discussing longer-term environmental attitudes, principles and choices. So the word has a sense of the abstract to it. Or maybe I’m wrong, that doesn’t really matter because we’re appropriating the word for our own purposes here.
So, let’s start with a definition. For the purposes of this post I am defining sustainable to mean the following:
- That the current teams and races are able to continue to support their riders at existing levels (aka stability)
- That the growth of the sport as a whole always take into consideration the requirements implicit within point 1
- That small changes with lasting positive effects be given priority over sweeping and destabilising changes
- That all interested parties (riders, teams, sponsors, race organisers, ADAs and governing bodies) be given equitable consideration in the deliberate growth of the sport
Now, I’m enough of a realist and old enough to know that there’s going to need to be more to it than just that, but if we make the definition too complex then we won’t have anything to argue about in the comments and I’m really dying to get into a heated exchange and call each other fucking fucks. So we’ll leave it at this for now.
Point the first – I’m quite guilty of not so much wilfully ignoring this part of the notion of sustainability, but more of forgetting that it’s there. This is partly because I’m a sarcastic bastard who has chosen to variously take potshots at the UCI and to exaggerate the humourous aspects of funding women’s cycling. Partly it’s because I’m still thinking my way through all of the issues and mostly it’s probably because I’m not actively working in women’s cycling so it’s not a deep part of my day-to-day thinking in a formal sense. In any case, I’ve come to realise that it’s really fucking important to remember that we have a current structure that is working for a lot of people. I think we all recognise that the system isn’t perfect and that there are a lot of people involved in the sport who are working for little or sometimes no reward, and that’s not acceptable to us. It’s why we want change, but in the process of changing we need to ensure that we don’t cause harm. This leads us to…
Point the second – There are teams, riders, races that currently exist and work really fucking hard to participate in the sport and make it better every day. It’s really important in our efforts to assist in the growth of the sport, that we make sure we don’t destabilise these people and make their lives infinitely harder (or even ininitesimally harder). There’s a whole bunch of reasons to make sure of that but the main ones are simply that it’s the right thing to do and there’s nothing wrong with doing the right thing because it’s right (hear that UCI?) and also that we need the involvement of these good folks in making sure that any changes we do bring into the sport last and actually do help to make things better.
Point the third – this is the one that I’m most guilty of because the whole point of my “crazy idea of the week” is to highlight how stupid it is that we can’t do better with simple changes. Of course, in the attempt to keep the requisite level of crazy quite high, I tend to suggest things that risk burning the entire edifice to the ground and starting again. The truth is, I don’t think we need to scorch the earth in order to effect lasting a positive change. Most of us get our ideas of funding from what we know of men’s World Tour teams, where budgets run around the $10million per year mark, with the “super” teams going quite a bit higher. I think most of us would be absolutely shocked to learn how little women’s teams get by on. Let’s just say that a women’s team could do quite a bit with a budget running at 10% of that of a World Tour team. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim high and plan to get the women’s sport to a level of equitable remuneration for all those involved, but I do think it’s really important that we not make the mistake of thinking we need to go from where we are now, all the way to the ultimate goal in one step.
All sports are a matter of small measurements. To somewhat cynically appropriate the phrase, a game of marginal gains as it were. Actually, fuck it, Al explains it better:
So bearing in mind that we’re fighting for the inches, the feet and yards will come, an inch at a time. So let’s take the next inch, and the one after that and so on.
Point the fourth – this is actually the one that I think is most important in the short-to-mid-term. We need to create a body or forum at which we can gather representatives from each of the contributing participants in the sport and discuss the issues as they apply to each, before reaching some sort of consensus about how to move forward. I also think we would benefit greatly from seeing some high-level advocacy roles created for women’s cycling. An individual or two whose job description includes facilitating the kind of forum I’m describing, but who also is actively involved in promoting the sport at a higher level. It would be a large (and rapidly growing) role, realistically it would require a small team, but in the spirit of point 3 we’ll take the inch in front of us first, and let’s get one person started as soon as possible. Some kind of conference/trade-show would also be a great initiative in my opinion. Giving the involved parties the opportunity to meet and discuss things as I’ve suggested, but also creating a central venue at which to showcase existing and new sponsors, and to demonstrate the extended value of engaging with the sport to 3rd party businesses and sponsors.
So yes, sustainability is complicated, detailed and involved, but that also makes it really fucking important. Let’s grow together in a calm and sustainable fashion. After all, we’ve got a lot of reasons to be positive – which is what we’ll be discussing in the next part.