UCI president Brian Cookson is aiming to address gender equalities in cycling, but knows it will take time and a joined-up approach after the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report highlighted alarming issues of financial and alleged sexual exploitation of women.
The main purpose of CIRC, whose report was published by the UCI last week, was to investigate past doping practices and whether cycling’s world governing body was complicit in the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
One finding not entirely related to doping was worrying and did not receive much attention amid the fallout over drugs use.
“The Commission was told that women’s cycling had been poorly supported in past years, and was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even allegedly sexually,” the CIRC report said.
Responding on Thursday at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference in London, Cookson insisted the wide issue was one for many agencies and not just the UCI, which will endeavour to address it.
He said: “It’s good and right that those were raised and we will look at what we can do about it.
“We will take our responsibilities, but national federations, national anti-doping agencies, social services and governments, police authorities, all of those people have got responsibilities.”
— UCIWomenCycling (@UCIWomenCycling) March 13, 2015
It could be argued that gender suppression is related to the lack of female role models within cycling and road cycling, in particular, where finances are so tight that teams regularly fold.
Cookson says the UCI is endeavouring to enhance the exposure of women’s cycling, to improve financial stability and grow the sport, but points out it is not just cycling where improvements must be made.
“This is something that we’re addressing, we’re very conscious of that,” he said.
“There’s a seachange going on at the moment in the whole way the public and the media respond to women’s sport.
“Traditionally not many people have shown much interest in it.
“I would like to see women able to make more of a career in cycling, but the economics of professional sport are brutally market driven.
“If there’s not as big a market for women’s sport, in terms of the public interest, the sponsor interest and the return on investment, women’s sport will always struggle.
“What we’re trying to do is tackle that at source, make women’s racing more attractive to sponsors, by helping television coverage, funding and supporting that, to make sure we can grow a sustainably strong base for women’s cycling.
“We’re a way on that journey, there’s a way to go still, but we’ve started and we’re making good progress.”
Cookson recently spent some time at a newspaper’s offices and commented on the lack of women’s sport in the publication.
“They would say they’re responding to market forces,” he added.
“What we’re trying to do is to turn that around as effectively as we can, invest and get a result.”
Despite the clamour for a minimum wage in women’s cycling, Cookson has resisted its implementation for fear of teams collapsing under the financial pressure.
A minimum wage will be looked at once the sport is on a more stable financial footing.
He said: “I’m told most of the teams would fold or re-register as amateur teams, so it wouldn’t, of itself, just bring more money into the sport.
“As the sport develops we can start looking at that prospect and in a few years I think we’ll be in that situation.”