By Jeanine Ball – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
The ongoing debate regarding inequality in prize money between men’s and women’s cycling was re-ignited last month. A member of the winning women’s time trial team in the Road World Championships and a top U.S. road cyclist, Evelyn Stevens, reacted to the discrepancy when the winning women’s team received a total of 10,666 € , whereas the winning men’s team received 33,333 €.
Only this past year, the UCI (Union Cycliste International), the International Federation which governs cycling, amended its regulations to require that the men’s and women’s World Champions in each cycling discipline (except the team time trial) receive the same prize money. This is only a requirement for World Championships. Equal prize money is not mandatory at most other international, national or local races.
Why does it matter?
Cycling, like many sports, has been traditionally male-dominated. However, women have competed at the highest level for decades. Women competing today at an elite international level put in equal amounts of training time and effort into racing as men. Inequality of prize money for women racing at the international level amounts to gender discrimination. Insufficient income from winnings prevents women who choose cycling as their profession from accessing the same opportunities as men.
Prize money is an essential source income for many female cyclists. This is especially true for women because there is no UCI minimum requirement for salary on professional women’s teams. By contrast in men’s cycling there have been recent discussions around salary caps, and the UCI sets a mandatory minimum wage for international level road teams.
The legal argument for equal prize money is based on a fundamental human right, which is that equal work merits equal pay. In Canadian law, this right is supported both under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as statutes in six provinces such as the Pay Equity Act in Ontario. While the UCI is an international federation and is not bound by Canadian law, Cycling Canada, which oversees the sport in Canada, is federally funded, and required to abide by all aspects of Canadian domestic law as well as Canada’s international commitments. In several instances, such as the National Cyclocross Championships in 2012, race organizers under Cycling Canada have justified lower women’s prizes claiming that the UCI does not require them to pay equal prize amounts.
Arguments against equal prize money
Opponents of equality in prize money have made a number of arguments against providing equal prize money to women. First, there are often not as many competitors in a women’s category, and therefore the organizer of a race would not have as much income from the entry fees for women, so the prize should reflect this. Second, a women’s race is generally a shorter distance, so the women aren’t actually doing the same amount of work. Finally there is an argument that women’s racing does not generate the same level of interest from spectators, and subsequently sponsors.
A response to the arguments against
This could be described as a “chicken and egg” scenario. For example, if the prizes were higher, perhaps more women would enter a race. Greater numbers of women racing would also make events more competitive, exciting and appealing to spectators. Women’s races generally are also held before the men’s race, which is typically the featured event, in the timeslot when there would be greatest interest from spectators.
In terms of the argument that women are not doing the same amount of work because their races are shorter, it is worth noting that the UCI sets the limits for race distances. Additionally, a comparison may be made to other sports such as professional tennis where physiological differences between men and women are recognized through varied rules of competition yet prizing is awarded equally. Further, equality is supported by statutes such as Ontario’s Pay Equity Act which strives to ensure that women and men receive equal pay for performing jobs that may be very different but are of equal value. Women are certainly engaging in competition which is of equal value to men’s in terms of both the level of competition and athletic ability.
While equal prize money at World Championship events is an important step, there are still significant opportunities to move towards gender equity in cycling. Canadian Race Organizers should lead the way not only because it is ethical, but because Canadian law also obligates them to do so.