Tuesday 20 October 2020

Photo of the day - 20: Women gearing up for the National Hill Climb Championships


Finish line of Bank Road hill climb: Haddi Conant (with Simon
"100 Climbs" Warren in the background)

With less than a week to go until the National Hill Climb championships there is a bit of fanfare goinng on around the fact that there will be a record turn-out of women competing at the event. A former full-time road racer, Laurie Pestana led a campaign to "flood the National Hill Climb Championships with female entries (ideally 100+ entries), women would have their entry fees paid for them. (Rather like what Helen Wyman did a few years ago to get under-23 women to compete in the National Cyclocross Championships). This was done as a way to encourage a greater female participation at the event, and get organisers to commit to paying equal prize money for the male and female winners. Observers say around 140 women signed up for the event, so folks have been excited at this unprecedented occasion. Some of the entrants were at the Hill Climb at Bank Road. One of the women was Haddi Conant, who has taken to wearing a campaign banner on her back at the races she's been doing. She initially had a banner that said "Equal prize money for men and women!!" But once she heard that equal prize money was being offered at the Bank Hill event and at the National Championships she changed the wording. Haddi has also made a film as part of her campaign. In parallel to this, another rider Gemma Wilks is making a film about women's participation in cycling, as a way to showcase what women do, in a hope of inspiring other women. I am all for doing anything to encourage more women to take up cycling and also to sign up for races. In fact, I have been involved in initiatives, such as the London Women's Cycle Racing League, back in 2010. That has gotten people many women into cycling. It is all very well for women to campaign for equal prize money or better recognition etc in the sport. However, I feel that at grass roots level, women need to step up to the plate more themselves. Sometimes I find it surprising the disparity in the number of women who campaign for various gender issues related to sport vs how many women actually turn up at the start lines of races. I know of race organisers who put on races for women, only to have barely a handful of women turn up. Some even have to cancel races due to a lack of participants - or run the race at a substantial financial loss. During the road racing season, at least once every few weeks a race organiser puts out an appeal for more entrants because at two weeks out from the race he or she has barely 10 women signed up. So while it is great to ask for certain things from those who organise the races, we should also satisfy our end of the deal by participating regularly. Men may be perceived as receiving more favourable treatment, but then again when a race is organised the men always turn out. With women it can be very hit and miss, and high risk especially for people who are running these events on a shoestring budget and organise races as a labour of love. Some folks claim that organisers need to engage with women more, or do more to make us feel welcome. But then I say, why should organisers do more for women than they would do for men? It's ironic to say, "We want gender parity, but can you do more marketing to we women, encourage us more and give us more of a welcome than you do with men so more of us can turn up?" You can't cherry pick what you want equality to look like. I say, if women want comparable returns to the men from race organisers they need to put themselves out there, rather than grumbling from the side lines. I am glad to see that the National Hill Climbing Championships will have so many female competitors. I hope this can be repeated regularly across all kinds of races, and without always needing special campaigns.   

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