Editor’s note: Big thanks to writer and racer Molly Hurford, the author of Mud, Snow and Cyclocross for kindly re-editing her fantastic book into some easy to digest posts designed to help spread the message that bicycle racing is not only wicked fun, but evolving in infinitely more positive ways as more women join the sport. Last month we published a great piece on the issues of equality in cycling (1/2) and today look into the money and politics behind cycling as a professional sport and why there aren’t more women’s pro tours (2/2).
EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK?
“I think it’s growing. I think every promoter in the US is being challenged to have equal payout.”
Promoters struggle with the question of equal pay for male and female racers. In Europe, almost without question, women don’t make as much as the men in prize money. The US has always led the charge in that respect, but at quite a few races across the country, the gender divide still exists.
For this reason, elite racers like Laura Van Gilder believe that women are essentially forced to walk away from the sport eventually. “It’s disappointing to go duke it out with the best riders in the country and walk away with $44 for a fifth place, considering what your equipment cost, or even just the cost of keeping it running. And a lot of us aren’t getting that stuff for free. So at the end of the day, people are making choices. Women have a lot more on their plate, you’re looking at probably an older age profile for most women, and maybe they’re looking at it and realizing they’re not getting much on their return.”
Promoter Murphy Mack is pro-equal pay, and his logic is simple. “I always have equal payouts for men and women. The women must go the same distance and elevation, etc. that the men do. Equal pay for equal work right? If you’re against that maybe you should come into the present century with the rest of us. Beyond that, I see offering equal payouts as a way to get all the women to the race. I guess you could say my equal payout brings all the girls to the yard.”
Promoter Dorothy Wong agrees, saying, “Everyone can say they want equal pay and so do I. Any way we can showcase women, I will. Cyclocross is a great sport for all ages and sizes of women, especially if we can market it, and I feel so strongly about it.”
She does, however, admit that there are problems with the concept of equal pay, when field sizes are vastly different and the spectators line up primarily to watch the men. “The challenge for women in sports is that we need an audience. Not that women aren’t fun to watch but it’s exciting when you see 100 guys charging out, and less so when there are only 20 women,” and that, she believes, is where the problem comes in. “Paying 20 deep to women in the race is not helpful, from a promoter’s standpoint.”
That said, Wong is passionate that the women at the top deserve the same as the men at the top of the sport. “I strongly believe the top women should be paid the same as the top men. I’ve thought about putting on just a UCI race for women, instead of for men. I think there’s huge potential we’re not touching by not promoting the women enough.”
However, other promoters disagree. Not because they hate women’s racing, but for practical reasons.
Talking to Adam Myerson, a long time proponent of women’s cycling, raises the two key arguments when it comes to paying women equally in the sport. He claims that the two ways to look at payouts are as pay for entertainment, or pay for work. And depending on how a promoter looks at the situation, the argument can be made in both directions.
“The first,” he says, “is to look at it as entertainment, and entertainers get paid based on the value of the entertainment they return. And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, star power pulls in a certain amount of return. So if you’re an actor or actress in Hollywood, what you bring in at the box office determines your pay scale. And I’m sure there’s sexism in Hollywood, but it’s not equal pay for equal work, it’s equal pay for equal value of the work.”
This applies to cyclocross, because, as he explains, “Sports are, in part, entertainment. So if men’s racing is more popular, has more spectators, brings in more sponsors, then of course the athletes would get paid more money because they create more money, because it’s more valued. Now I can say that I don’t think that’s OK, but it is what it is. So in that sense, as it stands, women shouldn’t be paid as much as men.”
However, Myerson doesn’t believe that this is the final word on the issue. “I can say that I want to change that, I would like to affect change in that area and make it so women’s cycling is as interesting, is as valued, as men’s cycling. But what has to happen first?” he asks. “Do we start by giving them more prize money so more show up? So we get more entry fee money? We know that doesn’t work. You can’t throw money at the problem. You put up equal prize money for the women, they won’t always come.”
Promoters in recent years have tried this approach in all disciplines of cycling, with mixed results from race to race. “So many promoters who care, who’ve tried to do something like that and have gotten burned. Because it turns out, the women, while they want equal pay in the symbolic sense of it, really race because they love it,” Myerson says. “And the money doesn’t get them to show up. Even though they want it in principle, we’ve seen that equal prize money is not enough to get women to come.”
If equal prize money won’t get women to show up at the starting line, and women don’t have the same ‘entertainment value’ as the men, it seems like the answer is that women’s payouts don’t need to equal those of the men. However, that’s where Myerson’s second point comes in: cycling is a job. “The other way to look at it is as a job,” he says. “And if it’s a job, then there absolutely has to be equal pay for equal work and it’s absolutely unacceptable that women don’t get paid equal prize money. Because it’s a job and equal pay for
equal work applies.”
At the end of the day, cyclocross has the chance to be the first cycling discipline where men and women are treated equally, and Myerson believes that to be true, saying, “’Cross has an opportunity to show real equality.”
Even women promoters agree that it’s a tough situation. Joan Hanscom of the USGP Series says, “It’s tricky. It’s hard. We want to do the right thing. Women have to fly and pay for travel to races, and they don’t get a discount on flights or hotels just because they’re women and their race is 20 minutes shorter. So we think it’s really important to pay them the same. They’re racing just as hard.”
She adds, “To build a professional class of athletes, you have to pay them professional prize money and I think giving Katie Compton $200 when the male winner is getting $2000, or whatever that discrepancy is, is a shame. We’re fortunate that Exergy is insistent on prize equality. We were already leaning that way when they came on board, but Exergy allowed us to take the prize list all the way, 15 racers deep.”
Team leader Stu Thorne thinks that the future can be bright for women in cyclocross, if the sport can grow, and if women are willing to race for the love of racing before worrying about the money. “I think if some of the other roadie and mountain bike women came over, they could make it,” he says. “You have to create your destiny. If you want to go do it and put the time and energy in and pay your dues, I can’t tell you how many years all of the guys did this for no money. And I know the women are still catching up and it’s not going to
He also wants to point out the harsh reality: being a bike racer, male or female, is never going to make someone rich. That said, he believes that, “With being creative and getting results and training, the potential is there.”
But as Thorne asks and answers: “Is it as much as the men? Probably not. Should it be as much as the men? That’s the heated topic. But the reality is that there is no big money.”