Guest Blog: The time is now – Spanish female cyclists stand up for their rights

If you follow women’s cycling around the world rather than just here in Britain, you’ll probably have noticed the word “igualdad” cropping up a lot in Spanish posts on Facebook and Twitter lately – and if, like me, your Spanish extends as far as ordering a beer when you’re on holiday, you probably wondered what it meant. Clicking on a few links didn’t enlighten me any further because all the posts are in Spanish, but it rapidly became apparent that something big is happening in Spanish women’s cycling.

Fortunately, we have Yolanda Álvarez (whose skill at speaking English puts my lack of skill at speaking Spanish to great shame) to explain more. If you speak Spanish, you can find out much more about the movement on Facebook.

 

Life shows us that a great deal of irony is an essential part of it, and the sport that we all love could not be anything but ironical. In a year, this 2014, where Spanish men’s cycling has had the UCI number one and number two riders and number one team , women’s cycling in the same country faces a critical situation: invisibility, inferiority, worrying lack of professionalism. The sport is regarded as mainly masculine and thus all forms of separation become chronic and utterly justified. To fully grasp the extent of the irony, a female cyclocross rider is achieving the best results of a Spanish rider ever (both female or male) in the Cyclocross World Cup this season. Her name is Aida Nuño and she has crossed the line 14th in Valkenburg and 13th in Milton Keynes. However, this situation has come to a turning point as the year fades away. A great number of “riders in arms” have woken up and , beware, they are plenty and they know very well where they want to get to.

How it all started

In Spain, the National Federation (RFEC) published a list of the approved prizes to men’s and women’s categories for 2015 and it speaks by itself: no, it is not a chart coming from decades ago. Check for yourselves:

RFEC

These scandalous inequality, unknown by plenty of people belonging to the cycling community as well as the sport in general, became the spark that set off the movement as it spread rapidly through social networks. In a few hours, some journalists were aware of the situation, wanted to collaborate and offered their media to explain and report the situation.

With the motto “Same treatment, same rights: EQUALITY,” Spanish riders have joined in a historical movement to improve their status as professional cyclists. The wave, started by a group of cyclocross elite riders, has spread rapidly and for the time being many more categories are joining in: MTB, downhill, enduro, raid … and surely as soon as 2015 comes road racers will join the movement as well.

 

What are they asking for?

Start lines, schedules and specific women’s races: taking cyclocross races as an example, riders are never certain when exactly they start, or if they will ride alone or with other categories. Not even the hour is respected. It is a common practice that despite the written rules, organizers change female start orders several times before the racing day, depending on the number of participants or the preferences of the local organization. Thus, plenty of times women have to race wheel to wheel with men’s Master categories, which are extremely crowded, or just with 30 seconds or 1 minute in-between junior or cadet categories. Needless to say, the chaos coming from these last minute arrangements is epic, and everybody (riders, organizers, media and public) has the feeling that female riders are “the last in the list”, a sort of nuisance which has to be arranged.

U-23 category: Spain is no exception in the confusion implicit in this category. Girls trying to adjust to the elite category after being juniors have no podium or start-line of their own. Plenty of times they are not even mentioned or awards are forgotten. This “in-between worlds” category has to be clearly defined in order to give these girls the status they deserve.

Prize equality: we know that in the international field the race towards financial equality is already a reality. Apart from World Championships, we witnessed Koppenbergcross this year giving equal prize money to women and men. Thanks to the movement towards equality that we are explaining here, some Spanish organizers have started to give equal prize money. The first was held one month ago in a cyclocross race, another one did the same last weekend and there are two more announced for the coming weeks. In addition, the international CX race in Igorre held last week saw how female junior and cadets received equal prizes as their male counterparts. It’s a first step. Elite riders were given the proportional prize to the time they raced (40 minutes – 60 minutes was the male’s race) …yes, I also think it’s ridiculous.

Duration of races: in the international level, elite cyclocross races last between 40-50 minutes. Female riders themselves were the first to ask for more coherent duration of their racing. In Spain, this rule has been overlooked plenty of times along the year. And not only that: junior category has run the same distance and time as the elite category, which is a total nonsense.

Official reports of women’s races and attention in the mass media: women train, sacrifice, pay their federative taxes, race and dedicate to their sport in exactly the same measure as their male counterparts. But the information we can get from them in the mass media and/or internet is far from being the same.

Equal representatives in the national and regional teams plus equal consideration from race organizers and judges. As mentioned above, most of the times female categories are the ones to bear all the last-minute changes, or not taken into account in meetings, or arguably not mentioned by race organizers, clear signs that they are considered “inferior” and of much less importance.

And last but not least: women and their racing schedule is often not included on posters announcing the races. No matter how unbelievable this seems, it has happened several times this year. This has to be immediately reported and corrected by the national and regional federations, which have to create mechanisms to stop these “mistakes.”

Action already taken

Aida Nuno 004

Aida Nuño Palacio has been one of the leading figures in the movement.

Banners with the motto “Same treatment, same rights: EQUALITY” at the start of races

A petition displayed at every race so that everyone can sign for equality.

As a result of the above, more than 6.000 signatures have already been collected in races, bikes’ shops and sports facilities all over Spain

A Change.org campaign launched some weeks ago

Stickers and badges with a female cyclist and the motto “Equality” printed on them. Riders and fans are wearing them and showing their solidarity to women riders.

A seven page document adressed to Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) and all the regional ones. This document, elaborated by riders themselves, explains the situation in depth and gives practical solutions to organizers and cycling institutions.

57 female cyclists took part in CX Igorre, which sets a record of female participants in a cyclocross race. The number of women riding cyclocross has increased by 118% in the last seven years, so the uttered “not enough female participants” to make an independent race is an excuse not valid anymore.

Some riders have just had an unofficial meeting with the President of the Spanish Cycling Federation and the general impression is positive. He is open to debate and to change the female status for the best.

Results so far

Four races have already promised equal prizes: CX Villa de Gijón, CX Villa de Marín, CX Candás to be held on the 28th of December and Andalucía Bike Race to be held in January 2015

Much more media awareness: press, websites and radio stations are showing a renewed interest on female cycling. Also, some of the riders behind the campaign have been interviewed on radio stations.

The poster announcing CX Basque Championships, which had a schedule that failed to mention the women’s race, was changed immediately as soon as some riders spotted it. Within hours of the organizers were contacted, the poster was changed adding all the female categories.

So, the race towards equality is ON in Spain, it is a needed change that benefits not only women’s categories but all cycling disciplines. This sport that we love makes sense if women are an active part of it, if men riders, race and event organizers, cycling committees, media, journalists and public think of cycling as a sport which transcends genders. Because, funnily enough, the word CICLISTA (cyclist in Spanish) has no gender.