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Lizzie Armitstead talks about “overwhelming sexism” in cycling

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Jem McCarron
WVoN co-editor

British silver medal winner Lizzie Armitstead used her Olympic success on Monday to raise awareness of the “overwhelming sexism” in cycling and sports in general.

Armitstead came second in the 87-mile women’s road race and caused a stir at the following news conference by talking about sexism within cycling.

She pointed to inequalities in the financial support available and the media coverage of female versus male participants.

Armitstead also suggested that the Union Cyclist Internationale (UCL), the ruling cycling body, should force big sponsors and other organisations to provide equivalent support for female cyclists.

Adding: ”The problem, as a female athlete, is that you don’t want to come across as negative and moaning….

“If we joined together we would have a stronger stance and it’s something we need to do. But it’s very difficult to tackle that massive issue when you are working as an elite athlete.”

Armitstead’s comments echo those of her colleague Emma Pooley, who came a disappointing eighth in the women’s time trials yesterday.

In the Guardian in July Pooley said: “Women’s cycling really does have a problem. It’s not a lack of enthusiasm or willingness, it’s just the races aren’t televised for the most part, so, for sponsors, it’s like night and day compared with men’s cycling.

“TV time is everything and the best thing the UCI could have done was to get a deal to get our World Cup races on Eurosport.

“It doesn’t need to be luxurious, but with a lot of women’s teams you’re lucky if they buy you a sandwich at the race.”

There is no UCI Women’s World Cup in Britain, forcing women to go abroad.

UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told Bloomberg that whilst they were putting efforts into improving things, he said: “What we cant do is to impose on a sponsor to do something. You can’t force a private company to do something.”

The entire set up seems designed to disappoint and dishearten those who are prepared to put in the enormous amount of time and effort required to compete at this level.

Sadly, it is not just the cyclists facing sexism and inequality; it runs through the entire sporting world.

A fortnight ago the Huffington Post ran a piece about Japanese women’s footballers and the Australian women’s basketball team having to travel to the Olympics in standard class, while their male counterparts were put up in business.

The Japan Football Association said that this was because the men are professionals. The Australian governing body (whose female team is far more successful than the men’s), said it would review their policies for future Olympics.

One thing that seems to be clear about these 2012 Olympics is that they are raising awareness of the issues facing female athletes.

This year’s competitors may come from many walks of life, cultures and sporting specialties, but they are bound not only by their Olympian status, but also by the challenges they face simply because of their gender.

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