It was going so well though. For the world cycling championships, which began this Sunday, September 18 in Wollongong, Australia, the French federation has decided to send its largest delegation in history, with 32 runners in total: 20 men, divided into the elite, hopeful and junior selections, and 12 women. This had been posted very early and the specialists welcomed this new ambition. France wanted to make their mark on the competition and retain the elite world title held by Julian Alaphilippe.
However, very quickly, this announcement crumbled in favor of a controversy that the federation could have avoided: for the trip to Australia – more than twenty-two hours of flight – it was decided that the selection male would move to business and the female selection to eco. The federation, which had the backing of all the riders, justified this choice on economic and sporting grounds. First, it would have been very expensive to pay for business tickets for the whole delegation. “This trip being very far away, it costs a lot. And if we wanted to take everyone, we had to make choices. And if everyone had been in business, a lot of people would have stayed at home. said a member of the federation, interviewed by Ouest-France.
Then, it was necessary to defend the title of Alaphilippe and therefore offer him the best conditions to claim a new world title. In effect, “the men will defend their title this year, once again”. So everything for the men, who would be considered better, and crumbs for the women, who would only be outsiders in this competition. Unfortunately, this choice, totally assumed by the federation, once again denotes a misogynistic and backward character of French sport. The men would be the great heroes of cycling, the women mere second knives, supporting roles without scope or project.
The question of cost, a miscalculation
It is a huge step backwards which has been knowingly taken by the federation and which may have harmful consequences for the future of French cycling. First, this choice will illustrate, in the collective unconscious, the idea that women’s sport would only be amateur, that athletes would already have the chance to participate in a world competition, before actually claiming to win it. We then risk seeing a vicious circle set in motion in the minds of individuals: if women are relegated to economy class, it’s because they can’t win a title, because they can’t make a good impression. No reason, in this case, to make efforts for them. But without accelerated development, without highlighting, no media coverage, no starification, no model for viewers and therefore no possibility of seeing a new generation of little girls who admire potential athletes.
As for men’s races, because Alaphilippe was put forward, and before him, Pinot, Vœckler or Jalabert, we publicized them, we starified them, put them on the front of the stage, we wanted to copy them . But what model among women? Who to represent the future of French cycling? You could say it’s anecdotal, an economy class trip, but it means a lot of things. The women will arrive in complicated and difficult conditions, while the men will be rested and alert. And above all, we will give the impression that women will not be able to claim anything.
Not to mention that the economic explanation is a false excuse. To say that paying for the trip for thirty-two participants required making choices is a misnomer. Among the selected, there are professionals and amateurs, the former could have paid the difference between economy class and business class. This was, in particular, the choice of the Belgian federation which sent everyone to eco and gave the choice of being upgraded, if the athlete or sportswoman paid the difference. Alaphilippe, whose salary is estimated at 2.3 million euros per year, could very well have paid out of pocket for the difference between economy class and business class.
On the contrary, this choice maintains the idea of a distinction between the male elite and the female amateurs, between those who will claim to win a title and those who only have the chance to participate. But how to give the ambition to glean a female title if the women travel twenty-two hours in eco, glued-tight in cramped seats and fed with cold sandwiches and frozen cakes?
The internalization of gender inequalities
Worse still, according to the federation, the French women selected were not opposed to this choice and validated the difference in treatment. It is the demonstration of an internalization and acceptance of gender inequalities. Asked about the issue, sociologist Béatrice Barbusse, former director of the National Center for Sports Development (the former name of the National Sports Agency) and author of the book sexism in sport (Anamosa, 2016), plus silk. “The fact that the girls said nothing and agreed says a lot about the position they are in: trapped. And above all, as in other sports like football, they have internalized their status as inferiors. This is why the system persists.
Nothing can change if they do not decide to oppose these decisions, if they do not boycott them. They first see the chance to participate in a world championship and fully understand the idea of economic differentiation. This is also the main argument raised when we look at the content of the comments. If women are treated less well, it is because they generate a lower turnover. The men make the audience, the women just figuration. Do not throw more, it is normal that they are less well paid.
It is the same argument that is put forward in football when we talk about wage inequalities, perfectly accepted by all players, footballers as well as footballers: since there are 100 times more people who are interested in men’s football that in women’s football, it is normal for the former to be paid 100 times more than the latter. Ditto in cycling, if the riders claim to win a title when the riders are only going to try to look good, it is normal for the first to travel in business and the second in economy.
Yes, but why are footballers more publicized than female footballers? Because for fifty years, between 1920 and 1972, women’s football was simply banned by international bodies. It had been unjustly decided that women were not allowed to play football. Thus, no development and no media coverage, no acceptance in people’s minds. And in cycling, no major women’s race has been organized so far. It took until 2022 to see the women’s Tour de France take place, under the impetus of Marion Rousse, and again, he stood behind the men’s edition, to take advantage of a media springboard. And what about international races, never or too little broadcast and publicized by television and the specialized press.
Finally and above all, how can we hope to highlight women’s cycling, with a star and a champion, as Jeannie Longo or Marion Rousse once were, if the girls land in economy class with twenty-two hours of flight in their legs? Clearly, the federation made a mistake and shot themselves in the foot. Unfortunately, with a little more thought, she could have avoided such a controversy.