Why the petition for a women’s TdF is vitally important

So yesterday on the podcast Sarah and I made mention of the petition that is running now to ask the ASO to commit to a women’s TdF. The petition’s been started by several pro cyclists and Emma Pooley has given a couple of great interviews about it and what they’re trying to achieve.

If you’re still trying to decide whether you should sign the petition or not, let’s talk through some of the things that it is and isn’t for, and what it will and won’t achieve.

My take on the petition from the start has been that it’s a good thing, even though it’s unlikely to achieve all of its aims (it’s asking ASO to institute a fully-equitable women’s race in terms of distance, race days, prize money and coverage in 2014).

Without taking anything away from the ambition at all, I think it’s safe to say that any fan of women’s cycling who’s been around for more than 5 minutes knows that this just won’t happen. But as Pooley herself acknowledges, the petition is about staking out an ideal and working towards it, and this is why the petition is vitally important.

It matters less whether or not a women’s TdF takes place in 2014 than the fact that during this 2013 TdF people are now asking “Hey, why ISN’T there a women’s Tour de France?” and then turning around and asking Brian Cookson, the ASO and others.

So the prime significance of the petition is really to leverage the global profile of the TdF while the 2013 edition is ongoing.

The petition matters in a very literal sense too because it’s an opportunity to seriously quantify how actively involved and large a community the fans of women’s cycling are. At the moment there are just over 40,000 signatures on the petition, but that barely scratches the surface of the potential signatures to be collected.

It’s not just on the raw numbers that the petition matters either. The last couple of years have seen a great deal of growth in the fan base of women’s cycling, and after years of slowly being strangled by a lack of institutional support from the UCI and a host of other problems, the sport is now finding itself on the cusp of an opportunity to pull itself out of this spiral and build a new and sustainable structure.

Consider that it was not even two years ago that the very suggestion of a minimum wage for “professional women cyclists” was dismissed out of hand by Pat McQuaid and by his challenger in the UCI Presidential election this year, Brian Cookson, both. In the lead up to the election later this year both men are now declaring their undying love for women’s cycling and Cookson has even gone so far as to say he’s changed his mind on the minimum wage issue.

So keep that in mind as now we hear these same men tell us unequivocally that it’s “unrealistic” to create a women’s edition of the TdF. And then remember that when these same men say that instead we should aim for fewer days and shorter stages, all they’re allowing for is a return to the days of the Grand Boucle and races we’ve already had.  In short, don’t make the mistake of thinking these men are real visionaries or leaders in the sport. They’re clearly not, so it would be foolish to expect them to lay out a clear vision for the future of women’s cycling.

Instead it is the immediate stakeholders, the riders, the teams, the fans (oh, how ironic that we find ourselves needing to exclude the UCI from a list of immediate stakeholders in a sport they allegedly administer!) who must lay out their vision/s for the future of the sport and demand that the race organisers and administrators pay attention to them.

This is the world we live in, and so this petition is quite simply one vision for the future of women’s cycling being laid out for public discussion and dissemination. As such, I welcome it with open arms, and appreciate the fact that it’s putting pressure on the UCI leadership and the organisers of the world’s largest race. I’m also very glad that it’s generating a lot of discussion and that it’s leading to more ideas and comments on how to change women’s cycling for the better.

So, will the petition succeed? It depends, it almost certainly won’t result in a 2014 women’s Tour de France with equivalent prize money and of equal duration, but will it succeed at making women’s cycling better? It already has, and it’s doing a great job of raising awareness of the issues around the sport.

So should you sign it? Fuck yes, you should and then you should find the next tangible action you can take to keep the momentum going.


8 thoughts on “Why the petition for a women’s TdF is vitally important

  1. Cookson’s comment was very upsetting. It’s obviously going to take considerable pressure to get anything approaching equality for women’s racing, but that just means it is time to start!

    • I can’t begin to describe how disillusioned I am with the upcoming presidential elections. The inability of the federations to even nominate a credible alternative to McQuaid is indicative of serious systemic problems. But you’re right, and this has been one of my key beliefs in my (admittedly short) time as a fan of women’s cycling, that if the system’s failing us then we don’t wait for the system to be magically fixed. Instead we get stuck in and change the sport ourselves. I was saying to a friend yesterday that there’s SO MUCH work to be done in improving women’s cycling that you can start at pretty much any point and find something to improve. So I welcome initiatives like the petition, I welcome calls and plans for sustainable business models and growth (oh gods how I welcome plans for sustainable growth!) and I welcome ideas. There’s no shortage of ways in which people can meaningfully contribute. In a lot of ways, this is one of the most exciting times to be a fan of women’s cycling.

      • Yeah – my friend Jens says maybe we should treat Cookson as if he’s in year zero and forgive him the stuff he’s said in the past, as long as he provides a concrete plan, with milestones and dates and stuff, that he can be held accountable to. I’m prepared to go along with that, if there IS a clear plan in place.

        (That’s uncharacteristically reasonable of me! What’s going wrong? 😉 )

  2. The current presidential crop are short sighted dicks, who will grab any soundbite that appears to be flavour of the month, that I think we just have to live with.
    But the petition can give some push to the potential sponsors, of both races and teams. If you want something to happen follow the money, and the UCI are clinging toghtly to their (ill-gotten) gains so look elsewhere.
    We want to end up with a good depth of riders we want to have 15-20 teams/150-200 women or more (maybe we have two tiers) with the funding to actually be Pro atheletes and train 100%. The racing that will result will quickly shut down any arguements that the sport is not *insert whatever derogitory term here*.
    Equality of TV coverage and of prize money is a huge issue, the gulf on both is so wide any improvement is going to seem great and getting the end goal could take a while, we need to get started because the perceptions of the sponsors need to be shifted and they are a largely conservative bunch.
    It will take a while and a sustainable growth plan is required as Dan says, this petition is one way of saying to the sponsors we support the idea. I have emailed sponors of women’s teams saying I buy their stuff because to their sponsorship, Dan has mentioned it too. Perhaps that is another campain that needs to happen, let the sponsors know we do notice their support.

    • Here we are, more than a dozen years into the 21st Century, and the mindset of the UCI leadership is still stuck in the Victorian age. It’s utterly shameful and inexcusable. I would almost want to expect a show of civil disobedience by the fans at Worlds in Tuscany. Could it come to just that…?

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