As women start to shine in the Olympics, Lizzie Armitstead raises sexism in sport

Silver medal winner makes comments on eve of her Time Trial

by Sarah Barth   August 1, 2012  

Team GB 2012 Lizzie Armitstead

As the women in Team GB prove their worth yet again with a gold medal (finally!) in the women's rowing pairs, Lizzie Armitstead, silver road race winner, has spoken out about the 'overwhelming sexism' in sport.

It's a valid point - the Tour de France is all about the men, who benefit from the vast sums of money sunk into teams like Team Sky - and look who actually rode to victory when Olympic crunch time came around.

The Times (£) reported on how Japanese women footballers and the Australian women's basketball team had to travel to London in economy seats while the men put their feet up in business class.

“It can get overwhelming and frustrating, the sexism I’ve experienced in my career,” said Armitstead.

“If you focus on it too much you get very disheartened.”

Emma Pooley has also voiced similar concerns about the visibility of women's cycling.

In the Guardian, she said: "A lot of women's teams you're lucky if they buy you a sandwich at the race… sponsors keep pulling out of races so they get cancelled… the calendar has been more than decimated.

"I get enough to live off, better than most women in the sport. The depressing thing is that there is so much money in cycling but it all stays in one bit of the sport, not much of it trickles down."

Armitstead even said that she wanted to bring up the subject with Pat McQuaid, UCI president, but "didn't want to come across as negative and moaning".

Well Lizzie, we think he might just sit up and take notice of you now.

39 user comments

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thereandbackagain wrote:
Another is how do you actually get into sports riding?

My thought is that you get people on to bikes first, make it something people "do" and the sporting interest will naturally follow.

I'd kicked a football around long before I got my first kit or boots or had even seen a football pitch.

posted by farrell [1302 posts]
1st August 2012 - 14:05

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on the roadCC strava group there are 95 members and 1 is female.

Having said that I did enjoy watching the womens road race just as much as the mens, and would watch womens racing if they broadcast it more often.

posted by SammyG [295 posts]
1st August 2012 - 15:07

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I would watch womens cycling just as happily as mens. However I am not given the opportunity as there is very very little womens sport on tv outside of the olympic games. I dont think I am the only one who feels this way, who is making this decision for us?

As for the 'biology' argument (nuclear coffee- "People tend to watch the best in any given area of sport, and women are less likely to be the best"), a race is a race, and when it is between a bunch of highly skilled and well-trained athletes at the top of their game it is always going to be interesting, whether they are male or female or juniors or lightweights.

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posted by sparrow_h [35 posts]
1st August 2012 - 15:24

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So where are all the women agreeing or otherwise on this thread? I am afraid cycling is a male dominated sport. I was at La Marmotte a few weeks ago (spectating) and very few women were riding, so not just a British issue.

There was a women's only race near here a few yearts ago, very few spectators. A lot of change is required before women get anything like equal opportunities.

To re-phrase a line in twentytwelve recently 'men like bikes* and men like women, so why don't they like women on bikes'

* football was original quote

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posted by Blackhound [436 posts]
1st August 2012 - 16:36

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Simon E wrote:
Change is long overdue.

who would complain about seeing attractive young women whizzing about on bicycles?

Also, if women cyclists are treated like sportswomen instead of 'dollies on bikes' than maybe mainstream interviews will focus on more interesting topics rather than avoiding 'helmet hair', how they manage to pee and so on.

I am presuming that Simon E is male, rather than Simone which isn't, and I would hazard a guess and say that its the first part of your comment that can put females off of cycling. As body conscious as males are in lycra, I think it pales when compared with womens thoughts and as long as they are even viewed in a pseudo-sexual nature rather than as people/athletes then a great big swathe of them will be put off riding - hence the popularity of female only gyms etc.

its the same as the females athletes being called girls on TV, whereas you would never hear the males being called boys - we really have to look at all the areas that act as barriers towards greater participation and sadly sexism in its myriad forms is a huge one of them!

Racer 074 for the 2014 Transcontinental Race; 2,000 miles from London to Istanbul.

http://themartincox.co.uk/2014/03/racer-074-transcontinental-race-2014/

posted by themartincox [319 posts]
1st August 2012 - 16:49

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Based on Sunday's road race, women's cycling makes for great watching. If it was available regularly with good timing, commentary and analysis then I'd watch it.

There's probably an opportunity for one of the lower profile channels to pick up on the appetite for cyclesports on TV as Five did with away Europa League matches over the last few years.

Whilst earnings from their teams may not be fantastic, I'm sure VP does very well indeed from her modelling and endorsements.

posted by Campag_10 [153 posts]
1st August 2012 - 17:19

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Where are all the women? Well, a very keen female cyclist wrote the piece in the first place... Wink

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posted by Sarah Barth [954 posts]
1st August 2012 - 17:35

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Lizzie et al have a point

If Pat McQuaid and his pals at UCI spent as much time, effort and cash on promoting women's cycling in its cultural heartland as they do in their attempts to take cycling to countries that don't appreciate (e.g tour of China) we'd see a more vibrant women's cyclng scene. Same for TV coverage - no one can tell me the women's Olympic road race wasn't as interesting/exiting to watch as the mens - the lack of exposure and coverage is a scandal.

Sudor

posted by Sudor [179 posts]
1st August 2012 - 17:44

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Nuclear Coffee has a point. The women's race was great but it was not men's racing. I'm a great supporter of Armitstead, but women's cycling doesn't get the blood bumping like men's does. It isn't as fast or edgy and, therefore, as popular to watch. In the same way that women's football is not men's football. You can say that's because of money, but that's being disingenuous. It's down to speed and power, risk taking etc, which is what men have and do more of than women. Apart from in the case of teenage swimmers from China, of course.

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posted by dullard [140 posts]
1st August 2012 - 17:59

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Surely the reasoning behind not placing the largest numerically valued team in business class is more of a case of lack of seats and/or price, as opposed to blatant and unrelenting sexism?

posted by OmegaPharmaSlow... [9 posts]
1st August 2012 - 18:09

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I agree with a lot of the comments on here, 1, it is a circular thing if more was shown on TV then more support would follow. 2, Safety and preceived threat again circular arguement (some people disagree with the CTC on the safety in numbers to me that sounds completely logical) 3, and possible the biggest & as already mentioned women (I can't think of a way of saying this next bit that isn't going to sound sexist) do have concerns over their appearrance being in skintight lyca whilst straining and sweating on a bike is not a flattering look. 4, sponsorship this has got to be a fantastic PR exercise for some companies.
Personally I hope there is a way to encourage more women into cycling but I'm not clever enough to know what the answer is.

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posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [571 posts]
1st August 2012 - 18:16

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Armistead is spit in and right to use her exposure to stick the boot in over this issue. There needs to be more women's sport on TV full stop. I'd love to see the women's TDF on TV - so would my wife and daughter. Not only would it give women cyclists the exposure they deserve but it might boost club numbers. We currently have 3 women in our road club - out of almost 100 members.. The youngest was 2nd in the BW CX league last year and one of the seniors has won the Eddie Soens and the other taken part twice in the women's TDF. We have no women that just ride for fun and club sexism aside it's the lack of public exposure for potential role models that is fundamental in keeping women out of cycle clubs.

After Nicole Cooke won in Bejing I hoped for a new attitude to wonen's cycling and more coverage. I worry that by Christmas Armistead will be forgotten and no changes made.

Eurosport calls itself 'The home of cycling' but it's support of men's cycling is patchy and women's pretty much none existant.

A channel educated purely to cycling is what's needed and it may not be far off.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1031 posts]
1st August 2012 - 18:18

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Someone here says: "Based on Sunday's road race, women's cycling makes for great watching. If it was available regularly with good timing, commentary and analysis then I'd watch it."

I couldn't agree more. Sunday's race was enthralling and, perhaps because of not despite the rain, dramatic.

And although one has to allow for "the Olympic effect", there were thousands of enthusiastic spectators along the route – even on the Fulham Road, where I was.

I think there is an interest in women's cycling and I hope Lizzie A can do something – if not now, then when she's retired – to help make it even more popular, and better funded.

Fran the Man

posted by Fran The Man [61 posts]
1st August 2012 - 19:00

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There would be a massive market if it was promoted but it is not promoted anywhere especially by those that run women's cycling. Same really. I agree with fran, male or female if it is set up like the men I would watch it. Sundays race was great

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
1st August 2012 - 19:20

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Looking at the magazine racks I can't recall the last time cycling plus/cycling week etc had a woman on the front. Cycling active regularly do. I think I scanned the cover of C+ and had to go back 3 years or so.

You do get a much better balance online.

posted by Tomabbott [8 posts]
1st August 2012 - 19:25

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@thereandbackagain

How about you actually determine the number of women taking up pro or club cycling (or even training seriously) and women watching sports? Both are MUCH, MUCH lower than the number of man in each of these categories.

I happen to work in a bike shop and what I can say is that about 90% of my customers are men. How can you expect sponsors to invest their money in women's cycling then?! Please bear in mind that the prices of equipment and other costs related to sponsoring are about the same in women's and men's cycling, so the return of investment is much lower in women's cycling.

Like I said, this has nothing to do with any kind of hostility. It's just a simple and measurable fact that the women's sports market is way smaller.

blog rowerowy - my blog about bicycles (written in Polish, but feel free to visit me! Smile )

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posted by mikroos [177 posts]
1st August 2012 - 20:03

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The only way to solve this problem is to get tv coverage. Tv coverage will bring in sponsers which results in more money to the sport. It will never be as big as mens cycling due to the history of mens cycling. There is a place for womens cycling on tv and it needs the likes of eurosport to give it a go. Plus women look hot in lycra.

posted by Will Steed [47 posts]
1st August 2012 - 20:13

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I was in London for both races. I have 2 young girls, both cycle to primary school and sometimes further. They enjoyed the Women's road race best. They were impressed that our first olympic medal was won by a woman. They enjoyed the time trials today and noticed that both our female cyclists did better than Vos. They understand Wiggins is exceptional. Their interest in competitive cycling has gone from zero to keen in the space of a few days. They now have role models for the future should they wish to compete. With the popularity of cycling increasing generally it is up to all of us to keep the pressure up for anything that will allow our sport/hobby/preferred mode of transport to flourish for the benefit of all.

posted by markrjl [14 posts]
1st August 2012 - 22:31

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Part of the reason why it is smaller I think is because for top end sport, people want to see world records and things like that, and in cyclings case, this can be provided by men more than women due to natural body size/shape etc. also, in my experience of watching womens cycling, they don't look as smooth or graceful in general as the men, although in fairness this wasn't a problem on sunday.
but I think the main thing based on what people i know say is that people would prefer to watch something for outright speed etc., particularly if they don't take part in the sport or know much about it, because it looks more exiting.

on the other hand, i get the impression that womens gymnastics is more popular than mens because women can perform at a higher level to men as they are naturally more graceful and more suited to that activity.

posted by jamjam [61 posts]
1st August 2012 - 22:59

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Another way to promote it would be go get lots of the women's names out there and get them known. lots of the people who don't do cycling are liking watching it because of "wiggo" and having a name like that seems to help spread the sport. i didn't know any of the women at the start of the road race, but by the time trial when i knew them, the race became much more interesting for me somehow.

posted by jamjam [61 posts]
1st August 2012 - 23:11

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Go on the Olympic ticketing website and search for any available tickets. Almost everything left is a women's sport. It certainly seems people want to watch men's sport more than women's.

posted by mbrads72 [115 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 7:23

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Surely she can make her own sandwiches ..

I've always found women to be pretty good at that type of thing ..

(I jest of course) .... Smile

Me, Myself and I

posted by phax71 [299 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 8:11

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"look who actually rode to victory when Olympic crunch time came around" Not her! Did she not come second and a man won gold!

posted by anicell [1 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 8:46

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This is going to sound a bit harsh but generally when you watch male versions of sports you are ultimately watching THE best in the world at the respective discipline. That is what interests me, a lot of other people and as a consequence a lot of the sponsors too. This isn't sexist, it's a fact.

If womens sports want more money then it's women who'll have to do something about it. Set up dedicated governing bodies so they can have more control (like tennis for example), as mens sports will generally always end up taking preference. Maybe then they could build a proper female fan base, with a men and some old perverts thrown in for good measure?

PS. It's hardly fair to slag off the mens performance in the road race, when they'd only six days since finished the toughest race in the world. Makes it sound a bit bitter.

posted by Coxyboy83 [2 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 8:53

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mikroos wrote:
@thereandbackagain

How about you actually determine the number of women taking up pro or club cycling (or even training seriously) and women watching sports? Both are MUCH, MUCH lower than the number of man in each of these categories.

I happen to work in a bike shop and what I can say is that about 90% of my customers are men. How can you expect sponsors to invest their money in women's cycling then?! Please bear in mind that the prices of equipment and other costs related to sponsoring are about the same in women's and men's cycling, so the return of investment is much lower in women's cycling.

Like I said, this has nothing to do with any kind of hostility. It's just a simple and measurable fact that the women's sports market is way smaller.

You've misunderstood my point. All you're doing is arguing for the status quo.

From my professional experience, I know that you can generate demand by sending out the right messages, encouraging people to think about what they want, what they can expect, then support those expectations. That's how you get people to change behaviours, at least in part.

Perhaps the heavy weighting towards men in your shop is partly due to the bias in your marketing, your customer service, your merchandise selection? Have you surveyed women to understand what would stop them from coming in and buying?

On a separate point, costs per media exposure are going to be way, way lower for women's cycling than men's there's not such a premium placed on the sport, so it'll be a very cost-effective sponsorship opportunity for the right brand.

Commonly, women feel intimidated by the attitude of bike shops, and that lack of confidence will put them off. Also, most manufacturers women's product lines are appalling.

Like I said, someone is going to realise this eventually, and actually start marketing effectively to female cyclists. Based on your attitude, that's not going to be where you work, unfortunately.

posted by thereandbackagain [152 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 9:04

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Outside of the club / pro / race structure (as I am) but living in an area that's frequented by lots of road cyclists I'm seeing loads more Women riders in groups, mixed and single sex.
They tend to be less "serious" looking than the blokes but are all on road race bikes and tend to be going along at a fair clip.

To develop the sporting element I think the UK should try to break down the club system, or at least make it more accessible. Weekend rides with the chain gang just don't appeal and don't fit into modern Women's lives. Having something more like what running clubs do, i.e. post work stuff - very open access, closed / semi closed road & track sessions. All of this would take obstacles out of access.

From my limited experience, via my wife and her mates, getting into competitive sport (running races) tends to come from having fun and wanting to try new things rather than the goal driven urge that chaps tend to have.

posted by acjim [29 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 9:37

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That more men than women cycle is hardly a case for maintaining the status quo. Every effort should be made to encourage and support the growth of cycling for everybody. If giving more media coverage to professional women's cycling helps with that, then broadcasters can make that decision. Once they do, then sponsorship will follow.

Let's not forget, however, that the strength of British men's professional cycling has come from a huge investment from the lottery which has been targetted towards development and support to bring home medals. Broadcasters had largely ignored cycling (particularly road and MTB) as a sport until these recent successes. Once the broadcasters were there, then sponsors weren't hard to find.

So, let's forget all this nonsense about women being slower, more self-conscious or less competitive. Forget too the idea that business is somehow detached from the interests of broadcasters. The key thing to remember is that if we want top athletes in any discipline and of any gender, it's the state through the lottery that can create the conditions for that to happen.

Tom

posted by mamil1965 [10 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 11:19

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Reading some of the sexist pish on here, you can see what women cyclists and women in other sports are up against.

posted by paulfg42 [370 posts]
2nd August 2012 - 22:41

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Simon E wrote:

Also, if women cyclists are treated like sportswomen instead of 'dollies on bikes' than maybe mainstream interviews will focus on more interesting topics rather than avoiding 'helmet hair', how they manage to pee and so on.


Of course, Vicky P has done nothing to promote that idea amongst the media...

Ticktock

posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
5th August 2012 - 20:00

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I like watching cycling, male or female, I've been cycling all my life, even when it was very unpopular and media showed us in a very bad light.

Sad that now so many feel one type of cyclist doesn't deserve the same respect and opportunities.

History shows you'll never be able to stop hatred or prejudice that some groups inflict on other groups, even when this is the majority...but that doesn't make it ok.

emily.b

posted by emily.b [15 posts]
6th August 2012 - 11:21

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