After a weekend which saw cycling’s gender wars again flare up, it's time for the men in the sport to wise up and think a bit more clearly about issues of equality and the difficulty women have in making their way in the sport we love.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

I don't want to weigh in too much on the specific incident which saw a Melbourne bicycle retailer cop a media hiding after hiring painted ladies to attend the launch of its refurbished store.

I think the retailer was wrong and should have accepted it as such instead of publishing what was a largely unapologetic explanation on its website.

However, the incident again illustrated how much of a tin ear the sport and industry has toward women's place in it.

Before I landed at SBS, I worked in the bicycle industry for some 20 years and I understand fully its underlying misogyny. Heck, I'll even admit to participating in some of those snide, condescending behaviors in my younger less enlightened days in the industry.

Much of this comes after a season in which the issue of women in cycling has been critically argued, culminating with a number of progressive moves being made by the International Cycling Union to increase participation and representation.

Of course there is no question the bike shop in question walks the walk in sponsoring a women's team, which only makes its marketing decision a perplexing mixed message.

As one of its riders, Bridie O'Donnell, points out in a weekend video blog, "...when you know a female athlete you care about what they're doing and you become an advocate for them. And unfortunately a lot of blokes who work in high level management, media and money they don't find that as interesting. They think AFL, cricket and motorsports are more interesting, and that's what we've got to push for. We've got to push for more representation, better salaries, minimum wages, promoting women in sport because of their great stories and not because they've got great boobs."

So what happened?

One of Cycling Central's readers noted in a blog of his own....there are very real consequences of objectifying women, even if your intention according to your media release is benevolent. We know that objectification has a very real impact on women. A study (one of many) by a colleague shows that presenting women in such a way can lead to depersonalisation and the denial of mind and moral concern. It wouldn't be Ok to have blackface entertainers at some gala launch, or even on an out of touch Saturday night entertainment program. As a culture we've moved to stamp out overt forms of racism (we've still got a long way to go with our own indigenous affairs), as well as prejudice against some groups in society with same-sex marriage laws in the ACT.


Finally, if we need a further illustration of how far there is to go for women in cycling, the Women's Tour in Great Britain, to be held 7-11 May 2014, is having a problem attracting sponsors....none of the 300 leading companies approached for support since the summer have shown sufficient interest to sign a deal, despite many being in the FTSE 100, with a track record of sponsoring big sporting events. Among those who have declined or ignored the opportunity are large corporations in the sports, energy, health food, finance, pharmaceutical and fashion industries. A few are still considering the opportunity, but none has been prepared to make a commitment.

A big race, with experienced, professional organisation and commitments from the best teams in the world to line up, is unable to find a single corporate sponsor.

There's still a long way to go, baby.