Monday, 27 February 2012

Procycling: men's salaries rise, women still being ripped off

UCI president Pat McQuaid refuses to
discuss professional female cyclists'
salaries
(image credit: Oblongo CC BY-SA 2.0)
According to a press release, UCI auditors Ernst & Young have found that the salaries paid to professional male cyclists with the top ProTeams rose from an average of €190,000 to €264,000 between 2009 and the present - amounts currently equal to £160,893.67 and £223,557.52 or $255,113 and $354,472.80. Not a bad wage by anybody's standards, so the UCI is giving itself a great big pat on the back and proudly telling the world how financially strong cycling is at the moment.

Yet, still, cycling's international governing body does not guarantee a minimum wage for female professional cyclists, refusing to even discuss the matter publicly - which has led to a number of protests, most notably at last year's World Championships when Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Marianne Vos and others highlighted the issue. "I think it’s total bullshit," said a characteristically forthright Teutenberg. "We’ve seen over the last couple of years, it’s getting harder and harder, you cannot come to a race to win if you’re not fit. The women deserve it - I don’t know why the men get this guarantee with a contract and the women don’t. We deserve equal rights." Vos, who has been so successful that she's one of the few women in cycling able to demand a decent salary, agrees: "The women’s cycling is becoming more professional, why should there be a difference between men and women?"

Both women are right. What's most shocking of all is that while male cyclists at the top professional level are guaranteed a minimum wage, some of the women are not paid at all - and with the prize money offered to them in most races frankly quite laughable compared to what the men get, they have to find jobs to make ends meet. And the sport is then accused of not being as competitive as the men's? Let's see the Schlecks, Evans, Gilberts and Contadors doing shifts in their local pizza shop to make ends meet while trying to finance their own racing and then see if they can remain anything like as competitive as the women do, shall we?

Whether the men deserve salaries that any fat cat city banker would be proud of is another argument entirely and it's true that women's cycling gets a fraction of the media attention (= sponsorship) that men's cycling does. However, if teams can afford to pay its male riders almost a quarter of a million Euros per annum, there also seems to be a very real argument for the introduction of an upper limit. The average annual salary for a family in the UK, according to statistics from Wikipedia, was €28,822.33 as of April 2010 - male pro cyclists receive more than nine times that amount.

Do they need €264,000? Of course not. Whether they even deserve that much is debatable - it is, after all, more than three times the highest salary of a specialist doctor in the British National Health Service; and even the keenest fan can't argue that a cyclist does a more important job than a doctor. Nobody needs that much. As this is an average salary - and, as Service Course (@SC_Cycling) rightly points out on Twitter, "Average salary among pro cyclists roughly as meaningful as "average salary among businessmen" - it's obvious that some riders will be receiving much less than €264,000 while others are receiving much more; but what is clear is that many of them are being paid a very large sum indeed. Introduce a cap of €200,000 and the male riders will hardly even notice a difference. Then see to it that the money made available is diverted into paying female riders a decent wage, because they really will notice the difference. In fact, it'd quite possibly result in a fund sufficient for those teams that do not currently run women's teams to set them up.

Will it ever happen? Of course not - and so female cyclists will continue to be paid less than their male counterparts, something that is illegal in business in any right-thinking nation. That is shameful - after all, as Teutenberg says, "We are living in the 21st century."

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