When asked my opinion on Tracey Gaudry’s December 1 appointment to serve on the UCI Management Committee as president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation, rather than simply speculate on Gaudry’s ability to penetrate the patriarchal dominance, influence review and reformation of the UCI’s stewardship of cycling, or bring more attention to women’s cycling, I thought more about the implications of placing another strong woman, a leader, a role model in a potential position of influence in sport.
Gaudry’s appointment — just the second-ever for a woman after former German federation president Silvia Schenk in the early 2000s — is a positive step for the representation of women in cycling, but gender aside, with her impeccable CV and tireless passion for our sport, she is qualified to do a stellar job. While the OCF is probably the least influential seat in the house, I think with Gaudry’s experience she can make an impact well past her jurisdiction.
It was interesting to note that the majority of the press leading up to the possible appointment of Gaudry was focused around Mike Turtur with headlines such as, “Australian official to lose key cycling post,” “Mike Turtur, one of the most powerful men in Australian cycling, will lose his position as president of the Oceania confederation,” and “Turtur set to lose Oceania presidency”. Rather than writing about an influential female about to slide into the power position, the focus, even though Turtur was losing position, was still on Gaudry’s soon-to-be-predecessor. This is a typical tactic employed by a majority of media outlets to keep men in the forefront of the news.
A must-see documentary, Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. The documentary refers to “symbolic annihilation,” as the phenomenon in which young girls and women are hard-pressed to find female role models, the icons that young women can look up to and say, “I want to be like her when I grow up.” How can you be what you can’t see? Gaudry’s position represents more than just a woman elected to a position on the UCI Management Committee; she represents possibility and probability for other women to participate.
It is a distressful indictment of our society for this male-dominated UCI committee to under-represent women in sport. These are men with mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Of course, my opinion is not directed at all Management Committee members, but most and in particular the decision-makers. Patriarchy is the default setting and the definition of both politics and sport. When you have a governing body that is comprised of only men, its not surprising those women who are governed are not thought about or represented correctly or equally.
On my recent visit to USA Cycling as a member of the Professional Road Committee, the UCI’s relationship with women’s cycling was discussed briefly; it was with great dismay that I discovered that there is not one person on the UCI Management Committee that is a true ambassador for women. Even USA Cycling has suggested several women’s initiatives and been met with resistance or dismissal.
The UCI last month presented a small consolation to women’s cycling with the announcement at the UCI Athletes Commission meeting of parity in prize money for world championships; great news, but this is supposed to be a victory? It’s something that should never have been an issue in the first place. It’s 2012, and with women representing 51% of the world’s population, surely we should be in a stronger position of equality. People will argue that there are more male license holders in cycling than women, but women make up an incredible depth, particularly here in the USA, where the female athletes were the medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics. While grateful that the world championship prize money is finally where it should have started, this was a poor appeasement attempt by the UCI, and does not address some important issues such as the age discrimination rule that a majority of riders on a UCI team must be under 28 years old, when we well know that females mature as athletes much later than men.
There is something to John Gray’s “Mars and Venus” theory. Men and women are in fact fundamentally different. Women think differently that men and have different needs and requirements than men. By appointing Gaudry, there is no longer an absence of representation and in turn this will hopefully combat the omission and trivialization of women’s cycling. But that is a big ask of a predominantly misogynistic organization.
There is nothing but opportunity now for women’s cycling, and while Gaudry’s appointment is an astounding victory on many levels, we have a very long way to go. The UCI and cycling industry need to be socially responsible. We are not excited by the gestures of pacification. Gaudry has a tall task ahead of her as a woman in a man’s world — the irony being, it’s actually a woman’s world with females making up the majority of the world’s population today.
Nicola Cranmer is the manager of the Exergy Twenty12 women’s professional road team and serves on USA Cycling’s Professional Road Committee.