2020 Olympics: men dropped as women ride on?

OlympicsAccording to a surprising report that appeared on Swiss website lehattoresfakten-CC.ch, the International Olympic Committee may be considering dropping the men’s road cycling race from the 2020 Games- but the women’s race would still go ahead.

UPDATE

The document appears to have the official IOC letterhead without compression artifacts or other evidence of copy-and-paste fakery. If it’s genuine, what it reveals will cause widespread controversy: after seeing audience figures for the men’s race fall for the last three Games while the women’s cycling’s popularity has soared, the Committee is apparently planning to completely drop the men’s race and concentrate instead on developing the women’s race.

UCI boss Brian Cookson released a press statement last week that may confirm the Lehattoresfakten-CC revelations (image: humpty77 CC BY-SA 3.0)

UCI boss Brian Cookson released a press statement last week that may confirm the Lehattoresfakten-CC revelations (image: humpty77 CC BY-SA 3.0)

It has been known for some time that the IOC was considering making big changes to the list of sports included in the Games as part of its Agenda 2020 programme. Last week, UCI president Brian Cookson issued an official statement regarding Agenda 2020; there was no mention of the plans outlined in the Lehattoresfakten-CC document, but his words could be seen as indicating that the UCI are aware of them: “I think the IOC’s Agenda 2020 started by President Thomas Bach is a very healthy development and should encourage real debate about the future of the Olympic sports programme. The Summer and Winter Games are a crucial part of the global sporting landscape and vital for all Olympic sports and those who aspire to be a part of the Games.”

“Agenda 2020 provides a welcome platform to stimulate public debate and discussion about what is needed to keep the sports programme fresh and relevant,” he added. “And as we move forward on concrete proposals we will also be consulting our national federations and stakeholders so that we can fully reflect the thoughts of the cycling community.”

Male cyclists have contested a road race in every modern Olympics since the first edition in 1896. The women’s road race was first held in 1984; 2012 was the first time that men and women competed in the same number of cycling events, due to several track cycling events having previously been open to men only. Sending the race the same way as polo, Basque pelota, baseball and the various other sports that once featured in the Games but have since been discontinued would, in all likelihood, be met with passionate protest.

While the document does not discuss future plans for the women’s race in detail (referring instead to further documents not provided on the website) it doesn’t state that the IOC would cut funds allocated to cycling at the Games, suggesting that the women’s race would be likely to benefit.

Could the document be genuine?

LHFCCLehattoresfakten-CC.ch is maintained by an anonymous figure using the pseudonym Le Hattore, a nonsensical word assumed to be an anagram as the site – along with fakten (facts) – is written in German. Whoever he really is, he hints that he is employed in some capacity by the IOC, with connections to the UCI – and documents he claims to have obtained from the organisation’s internal computer network in the past has subsequently proved to be genuine.

“There’s no way I could say whether this document is real or a forgery,” says cycling journalist Piet Damhuis, who spent twenty-five years working as a directeur sportif for top Belgian women’s cyclo cross teams including the highly successful Stiif Quuasoid CT (sponsored by West Flander’s largest manufacturer of anti-flatulence remedies before the company pulled out of cycling after suffering record losses at the start of the credit crunch). Now based in Lausanne, close to IOC headquarters, he is widely considered to be an authoritative voice on all matters involving the Committee.

“If this is true, it’s explosive stuff,” he adds. “What the IOC is saying, if Le Hattore is to be believed, is that the men’s road race in Rio will be the final time that the event forms part of the Games.”

Rex Tideson-Steally, who acted as liaison between British Cycling and the IOC prior to the 2012 Games, believes the document is genuine.

Rex Tideson-Steally, who acted as liaison between British Cycling and the IOC prior to the 2012 Games, believes there’s a reasonable chance the document is genuine.

Rex Tideson-Steally acted as liaison officer between British Cycling and the IOC in the early stages of organising the 2012 London Games. He’s also seen the document, and thinks there’s a reasonable chance that it’s genuine. “After London, the IOC were deeply concerned about the road races,” he says. “The men’s road race, coming so soon after Bradley Wiggins’ historic Tour de France victory, was supposed to be the jewel in the crown – the whole sports world went Wiggo mad, not just in Britain but everywhere. The IOC thought they could take advantage of that and get the biggest TV audience in the history of the Games, but viewing figures – though high – were far less than expected. The 2008 race was seen by fewer people than the 2004 race, too, and that was seen by fewer than in 2000. It was still watched by several million people, but there’s definite evidence that it’s on a downward spiral.

“The women’s race, meanwhile – well, that was a different matter altogether. They thought it’d draw a far smaller audience, but it seemed like most of the world was either there lining the parcours or glued to the TV, watching Lizzie Armitstead and Marianne Vos duke it out, and figures later proved it had been watched by about two million more people than tuned in for the men. So my guess is the IOC have decided women’s cycling is on the cusp of becoming more popular than men’s cycling in the wake of the Festina Affair/Operacion Puerto/Lance Armstrong scandals, and they’re looking at ways to make the most of that change.”

UPDATE