Just in

[Embarrassed cough] … Sorry, I’ll be on my bike, then

Once again risking the wrath of the PC-brigade and the accusation that the Rust has been captured by a bunch of a unit of misogynistic male curmudgeons, I return today to the complex subject of female sport in its widest sense – viz. encapsulating aspects such as gender equality, positive discrimination and commercial reality.

serena3My opening disclaimer begins with the statement that my present purpose is not to revisit the subject of pay equality, which raised its head at Wimbledon earlier this week when Serena Williams took just 48 minutes to blast Russia’s Elena Vesnina off the court in her Women’s quarter-final match, the latter being compensated with the healthy sum of £500,000 for an outing in which she won just two games in two sets.

Nor is it to return to the subject of the uber-politically-correct BBC Radio Five Live’s over-promotion of women’s sport generally, almost to the point of parody.

Nor it is to spew out invective upon the popularity (or otherwise) of female sport and the reasons therefor.

Instead my text for today comes from an article by Helen Pidd posted upon the website of The Guardian in which she complains of unequal treatment by television companies of women’s cycling, i.e. compared to men’s.


Finally, to add to the growing list, I must here declare one further (lack of) interest – I am not a particular fan of cycling.

On the rare occasions I come to it I do so as a committed fan of sport generally who, having failed to locate any other channel broadcasting a sport marginally more interesting, taps into cycling as a ‘last resort’ that hopefully neutralises for a further period the need to move to my desk to attend to my household bills and/or jump into my car to go and collect my laundry.

But that brings me to my point.

There’s a basic conceit in my thinking here, but I assume that I’m representative of the bulk of sports-lover/viewers.

tourIn other words, when it comes to cycling, for the uncommitted it largely consists of an experience of following a bunch of multi-coloured ants [viewed by an overhead aerial camera, occasionally switching to roadside and/or ‘on the back of a motorbike’ cameras – in front of, beside, or indeed behind – specific riders or bunches of them] pumping away through sometimes quaint villages and countryside with a pair of commentators rabbiting on about obscure cycling historical details, intricate team tactical considerations and/or their favourite restaurants in the locations that the cyclists and their entourages are passing through at an average speed of about 28 mph.

I hope I’m not stretching the analogy here, but to me the experience of watching (or listening to) half a day’s coverage of a cycling event is not unlike that of doing similar in respect of a cricket Test Match – the only distinction being that venue-wise, instead of remaining static in its hallowed surroundings, cycling’s equivalent of (say) The Oval is travelling at an appreciable lick up the M1.

In other words, although watching either of these sports can just about qualify as an acceptable way of passing an afternoon, for me and those like me, of the two cycling is somewhat further towards the ‘watching paint dry’ end of the spectrum.

Which brings me to women’s cycling.

Even when the camera is focusing upon a single (important) rider in the Tour De France – perhaps featuring him from side-on as he begins an increased spurt in an effort to break away from the peloton – or perhaps to keep up with a break – all the viewer sees (most often) is a figure with a slim upper torso and massively over-developed thighs, dressed in lycra, with an aerodynamic helmet on his head, bent over the handlebars.

It could almost be a robot, albeit perhaps one with a modicum of AI (‘artificial intelligence’).

And so, what is different and/or special about women’s cycling?

Well, all you need do is re-read my paragraph above describing a male Tour de France rider and substitute the gender.

The fundamental point is that women’s cycling is men’s cycling, but done by women.

In other words – to put no finer point upon it – there is no difference to it whatsoever, well save that it’s being performed by women. The set-up, the strategies, the tactics will all be similar, of course.

However, it’s not going to be done as fast as men’s cycling, or perhaps as aggressively (though maybe some might argue this point), or even better. It’s just being done by women.

This is where, I believe, the disconnect comes between the proponents of female sporting equality (whether for prize-money or depth/extent of coverage) and practical and commercial reality.

tour2The overwhelming bulk of sports-viewers are male. Generally, if given only the ‘either/or’ choice, most men would rather watch male sport than female.

Disregarding for this purpose those females who participate in sport, most women can take or leave watching sport of any description. If they do become sports fanatics, it’s most likely to be as followers of male sports.

I am not attacking those who wish to increase sports-participation generally – whether their motivation is to tackle rising obesity rates, promote healthy lifestyles or any other. Their campaigns are, of course, laudable and deserve support.

However, I do balk at the thrust that – if men play a sport that receives what might be termed mainstream peak-time broadcast coverage – therefore, if there are women who also play that sport, their elite athletes or teams should (whether by moral right, social convention or even legal enforcement) be afforded similar broadcast exposure … and any suggestion otherwise automatically qualifies as institutionalised inequality that must be ‘corrected’.

For me, elite sport is an expression of life. And we all know what happens in life: we do not necessarily get paid what we deserve, we get paid what we can persuade someone to pay us.

Plainly, with a sport on the global scale such a football’s, the male top players get paid a king’s ransom (and then some). That’s largely down to commercial reality.

As is consideration of what sports rights broadcasters decide to bid for, and then how much they are prepared to bid for them.

At the end of the day, if coverage of men’s cycling (the TV rights for which are naturally pretty expensive) to be broadcast at a given time of the television day is calculated to gain five times the audience that an equivalent women’s cycling event would attract, it would be logical that a bidder might be prepared to pay five times as much for it.

Or even, when times are financially tough, that a bidder might opt to buy a package of men’s cycling and not bother with one of women’s. The idea that some outside authority can impose a rule that – if you buy say four hours of men’s cycling – you must therefore also buy and broadcast four hours’ worth of women’s cycling is counter-intuitive to the point of absurdity.

Put it this way – if women’s cycling was more exciting and/or drew five times the audience of men’s cycling, the obvious course for any TV broadcaster would be to buy women’s cycling big … and men’s not at all.

As a man, why would I complain about that? I’d be watching women’s cycling and feeling good [well okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, perhaps ‘better’] about it.

(The clue is in the phrase ‘If women’s cycling was more exciting …’).


Avatar photo
About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts