I don’t have the time to write in-depth about this, but I wanted to mention it. Actually, I don’t want to mention it, because it’s really depressing, and I’d rather focus on the positive side of this sport I love, but it’s important that we note it, in the context of shining a light into the dark corners, and committing to rooting this out of cycling.
Some background to the CIRC report (full text available here)
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (“Commission” or “CIRC”) was established by the Union Cycliste Internationale (“UCI”) “to conduct a wide ranging independent investigation into the causes of the pattern of doping that developed within cycling and allegations which implicate the UCI and other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices.” (page 6)
It’s been all over the news in the UK at least because of the issues about doping, and the links to Lance Armstrong etc. But I want to look at what it says about the women’s side of the sport, and specifically the bits I haven’t seen reported, including allegations of sexual and financial exploitation. Hat tip to Mariska Tjoelker, who brought this to my attention. From page 70, the specific section devoted to women’s cycling (bold sections my emphasis)
Women’s road cycling and other cycling disciplines
The Commission regrets that it did not have more time to examine all other cycling disciplines as it believes there are valuable parallels to be drawn and reasons to be examined as to why a discipline does or does not have widespread doping within it. The Commission did however briefly examine women’s elite road cycling. It believes that it is under-developed and potentially offers a great opportunity for cycling.
The Commission found that doping occurs in women’s cycling, although it most probably is not as widespread and systematic. This is likely because far less money is available in women’s road racing currently. The Commission was told of doping at the highest levels nevertheless, and it is logical to assume that when women’s cycling is finally developed to a status comparable to the men’s sport, it will attract the same problems as the men’s unless steps are taken now to protect it from that fate.
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. The Commission was told that the managers were often from male cycling, and were not of a quality to get a job in men’s road cycling, and that glaring opportunities to recognise women’s cycling for its potential were tainted by a male-dominated sport that failed to realise the potential of women’s cycling.
So, it’s weird to me that this is the entire section on women’s cycling, and it’s even more strange that that line “..was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even allegedly sexually” is just put in there with no follow-up or suggestions for action – let alone been ignored by all the media I’ve seen. The thing is, this allegation is not surprising, and I want to say a couple of things about this.
I’ve written and spoken about this before (for example, about the allegations of sexual abuse here), and of course, there have been stories about financial exploitation for years (for example, the Estado de México-Faren scandal last year) and it is pretty much inevitable that the two things go hand-in-hand. I absolutely don’t think it’s endemic in the sport, but I’ve heard stories about the corners of the sport, the team(s) with reputations, and it’s almost depressingly inevitable that if you have a situation where young people are being denied wages, living in team houses provided on the proviso that they keep their job, and having to compete with other team-members on all kinds of different levels to get to actually race, that unscrupulous bastards will also exploit them sexually. And if riders are hundreds or thousands of miles away from friends and family, without the money to get home, the pressure is even greater.
(Edited to add this paragraph:) And then the sexual abuse of children, teenagers an young adults by coaches is common across all sports. The most high-profile cycling incidents I can think of is the young woman abused by Australian cycling coach Warwick Phillips, which I read about when his victim stabbed him in revenge (and when he was allowed to join a cycling club after his conviction, who seemed confused that people found this shocking) – and of course, the tragic story of Geneviève Jeanson, who was given EPO when she was a young teen, apparently never raced clean, and in the book L’affaire Jeanson: l’engrenage “describes being beaten, sexually abused and blackmailed” by her former coach André Aubut. Update: And the stories about the abuse of Tammy Thomas combined with pressure on her to dope. There are hundreds of stories across sports, and while some, like the Penn State child abuse scandal become international news, so many more remain hidden.
I say “people” when I’m talking about this rather than “women” on purpose here. These allegations come under the women’s section, but the stories of financial exploitation are all over the lower levels of the men’s side too, it’s just they’re talked about less because the guys have more incentive to suck it up and hope they get to the World Tour. And there are such big taboos against talking about sexual abuse of men in (most of) Western society, that it’s no wonder men in any macho sport like cycling would keep quiet. After all, the Floyd Landis doping trial showed what happened to Greg LeMond when he talked about being sexually abused as a child – it was used as a weapon to try to hurt him, which is incomprehensible to me. So while it’s shocking that allegations about exploitation (and abuse) of women exist, as I’ve said before, at least it’s being talked about.
And then the fact I haven’t seen anything about this in the media – in fact until Festinagirl and Mariska added me to a twitter conversation, I didn’t even know women are mentioned at all. I know the obvious story is Lance, but this is something huge, and something we ALL should be fighting to get stopped, and punished, right now.
The doping? That’s not surprising, and I am pleased that while the three whole paragraphs on the women’s sport at least focus on the opportunities around the women’s sport, and the potential for development.
Re the men working in women’s cycling because they can’t make it in the men’s sport? I really want to highlight that while this is true for some men in the sport (and some national Federations definitely treat their women’s national team as the place where some dude straight out of the men’s peloton can learn to DS on no experience before moving on to “better” things), it’s absolutely not the case for all the men. The top male DSs in the women’s sport are experts in it, dedicated and skilled, who could move to the better-paid men’s side but prefer the women’s sport, and I wish that part had been phrased a little differently.
So what else was said? I did a searched the document for mentions of “women”, and this is what turns up:
“Under the rule, the UCI carried out blood tests before and during competition and any rider with a haematocrit reading higher than 50% (for men) or 47% (for women) was deemed unfit for competition and prevented from competing for 15 days from the date of the test.”
“The Commission heard that the problem of abuse of TUEs also exists in women’s cycling, where some riders would turn up at the race registration with extensive folders of TUE-related documentation.”
The MPCC initiative is a self-help initiative aimed at improving teams’ anti-doping credentials. This movement asks teams to sign up to a series of voluntary rules that are in addition to the existing formal and enforceable anti- doping rules. As of February 2015, 11 out of 17 UCI WorldTeams were signatories, 19 out of 19 UCI Professional Continental Teams, and 32 out of 145 UCI Continental Teams had joined, and 8 out of 36 UCI Women’s Teams had signed up. Other, non-team members of MPCC included 8 national cycling federations, the European Cycling Union (UEC), 6 organisers, 8 sponsors of cycling teams and 7 agents.