My love affair with cycling’s podium girls has stretched past 30 years, and to be honest shows no sign of abating. However, the passage of time requires that we put this anachronistic display of femininity and servitude to rest.
Judging beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder. The Tour de France podium girls have always been my gold standard, but recently I reckon the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana have really lifted their game, with the recent Tour de San Luis in Argentina adding a certain South American flair to the podium proceedings. Wowza!
Take the poll: Should the podium girl tradition continue?
See how bad that sounds? You hear it a lot when the question of podium girls is mentioned. It is, of course, incredibly sexist in any context, a judgement of women based on a most trivial thing: how great they look in a frock while presenting the flowers and kissing the male winner of a race.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but a recent blog post by The Punch’s Anthony Sharwood again posed the question “Hey cycling, what’s wrong with this picture?”
“Great news, girls and young women of Australia. You too can aspire to be a podium bimbo, who wears figure-hugging, delectable smoked salmon-coloured dresses just like these hotties,” began Sharwood's opinion piece.
The salmon-coloured dresses were of course those worn by the podium girls at the Santos Tour Down Under. Hotties? Absolutely. Bimbos? Not a chance. But Sharwood also went on to make an important final point.
“There are bigger issues in the world. There are countless more graphic and serious examples of sexism," he wrote. "But when I showed the family this pic today, my wife and nine-year-old daughter thought it sent an old-school kind of message, and so do I.”
I agree. While podium girls are a lovely, ornamental sideshow to the racing, the increasing presence of women in the sport through improved racing conditions, performance and governance means that it’s time to make that presence a more contemporary one.
Qatar, for example, seems to get along just fine without the presence of podium girls for the men’s Tour of Qatar, as it adds weight to the development of women’s racing through the upcoming Ladies Tour of Qatar.
But some, like my high-performance colleague Kate Bates, think podium girls are a tradition that sits well alongside the sports progression, heading to Twitter to explain why it's a-OK.
A men's race, w a heavy involvement from women in event management & organisation + media. Podium girls a tradition.thepunch.com.au/articles/hey-c…— Katherine Bates (@KatherineLBates) January 27, 2013
Cycling was a boys club - but has been consistently moving in right direction for female representation from events & athletes to media.— Katherine Bates (@KatherineLBates) January 27, 2013
@paul_larkin certainly. I shove a fair bit :) I think it's misplaced to say cycling is a sexist sport despite silly articles on the topic.— Katherine Bates (@KatherineLBates) January 27, 2013
@peteryan72 I think it's a cheap shot. Also gives local designer Liza Emmanuelle a chance to show her amazing dresses to the world.— Katherine Bates (@KatherineLBates) January 27, 2013
Yes, professional cycling is modernising, slowly shaking off the ghosts of the past like omerta and cronyism in governance. The sport is globalising, and women are an increasing part of that movement forward.
I think nothing would signal that modernisation better than an upgrading of the status of women on the podium to that of race winners only.
So what do you think? Podium Girls, yea or nay?