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Cycling's problematic pursuit of equality

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Matt Slater | 13:59 UK time, Friday, 30 October 2009

There are times when I think a seat on the sports administration gravy train might just be the very best place in the world: great food, first-class travel, the best seats for the big matches, fancy handbags and so on.

And then I remember they sometimes have to make tough decisions - 50/50 calls that will leave lots of people annoyed no matter which way you call it - and wonder if I really would like that responsibility.

World cycling's bosses are facing one of those lunch-spoiling dilemmas right now and the decision they appear to have made has certainly annoyed a lot of people, many of them British.

But before anybody accuses them of plotting to do us in now that we're good at something we should perhaps try to understand why preventing British cyclists from defending hard-won Olympic titles is not the open-and-shut case of incompetence/insensitivity/anti-British prejudice it might seem at first glance.

Underlying all this - the proposed changes to the London 2012 track cycling programme, the scrapping of traditional events, the introduction of new ones, the complaints and predictions of doom - is a glaring injustice that simply must be addressed: men have more chances to win Olympic medals than women do.

Bradley Wiggins scorches to a second straight Olympic individual pursuit gold in Beijing last year
Bradley Wiggins' storming ride in Beijing might be the last ever Olympic men's individual pursuit

In Beijing there were 165 men's events and only 127 for women. This meant that 58% of the 11,000 athletes at the Games were male - the inequality is even worse at the Winter Olympics.

This is more than just a bit embarrassing for a movement that considers itself liberal and meritocratic, it also falls short of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) own charter and could even be illegal in many countries (particularly when you consider the public money involved in staging these celebrations of humanity).

Simple, you might be thinking, just introduce more events for the women, 165 gold-medal opportunities each.

If only it was that easy.

Leaving aside any debate on the attraction of women's Greco-Roman wrestling or men's synchronised swimming, there is one massive problem with adding events to the Olympic programme: cost. More events, means more athletes, more coaches, more officials, more rooms, more vehicles, more, more, more.

The price tag of an Olympics is already at the upper end of what most governments think they can reasonably expect their electorates to go for and the IOC knows it. Asking for more is out of the question. So if the federations that run the Olympic sports want new events they're going to have to give up some old ones.

Which brings us to track cycling: Beijing's Laoshan Velodrome was a fantastic venue for top sport, and the scene of many of Team GB's proudest moments, but it was hardly an equal-opportunities workplace.

Of the 10 events, only three were for female cyclists. While this meant Sir Chris Hoy was able to sprint to three golds and a knighthood, Victoria Pendleton had to make do with one and some magazine work.

This disgraceful situation left cycling's governing body, the UCI, open to considerable criticism. And it certainly came, much of it from Britain. But say what you like about the UCI, and many do, nobody can say it didn't listen.

At London 2012, it has decreed, there will be five events for men and five for women: sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and omnium. So out go the men's madison and points races, the women's points and both individual pursuits, and in comes a women's team sprint, keirin, team pursuit and two omniums.

Those changes are provisional but nobody is expecting the IOC to do anything other than rubber-stamp them at its next board meeting in December.

So, with one bureaucratic flourish, equality between the sexes has been delivered in the velodrome. But what about equality between the cyclists?

The five chosen events can be broken down into three for sprinters like Hoy and Pendleton, one for distance riders like Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero, and one, the five-discipline omnium, for all-rounders. These choices represent a clear shift away from endurance events to more explosive ones, and reaction has divided along those lines (as the video below demonstrates).

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Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Geraint Thomas and Lizzie Armitstead on the changes to the 2012 programme


Pendleton, unsurprisingly, is delighted. Sprint king Hoy is pleased for his female counterparts but acknowledges it is hard on the distance riders. Romero and Wiggins, individual pursuit specialists, are furious. The former described the changes as "ludicrous", while the latter said the proposals would "kill off" endurance cycling on the track.

Wiggins, a three-time world and double Olympic champion, was hoping to go for an unprecedented third straight victory in his home city in 2012, and Romero will also now be deprived of the chance to defend her Olympic title. If that's not bad enough, Wiggo has also lost his ride in the madison and Romero her second medal shot in the points race.

And it's not just these two in the GB team left wondering if they have upset the cycling gods. Beijing medallists like Steven Burke, Wendy Houvenaghel and Geraint Thomas can all feel aggrieved about the UCI's "radical" tinkering.

But the link between the individual pursuit and Britain goes deeper than that. Domestic riders have won 21 world titles in the event in the last half century. The greats of British track cycling - Beryl Burton, Graeme Obree, Hugh Porter et al - have specialised in this most pure of contests.

And you could argue that Chris Boardman's individual pursuit triumph in 1992 was the catalyst for Britain's recent Olympic renaissance. The lessons learned by Boardman and his young coach Peter Keen have transformed Team GB from being nice-but-nowhere types to success-hungry medal machines.

So it is more than just another event for British cyclists and while none of them disputes the need to address the male/female medal split, they are wondering if other sports would have been given such a firm one-in/one-out ultimatum.

Athletics, the Olympics' biggest sport, has been allowed to level up its medal split without losing men's events, and swimming, the second biggest sport, has also not had to engage in much horse-trading with the IOC over the years. Are some Olympic sports more equal than others? That, no doubt, will be the topic of much conversation when the track cycling community gathers in Manchester this weekend for the World Cup Series' opening leg.

I expect there will be also be some water-cooler chat about the omnium, which isn't on the World Cup menu but has appeared at the last few world championships. Until now cycling's answer to the pentathlon has failed to tempt the sport's biggest names (Thomas refers to it as a "joke event" in the video above) but that will probably change now there is an Olympic medal to aim for. One rider who appears made for its jack-of-all-trades demands is Britain's Lizzie Armitstead. Remember the name.

It is also worth pointing out that British cycling has been here before. Hoy was devastated when the UCI took away his speciality, the kilo, to accommodate BMX in Beijing. The Scot has admitted to almost quitting but he decided to set himself new goals and emerged four years later as the world's greatest sprinter in both the power events and the more tactical ones. When I spoke to Hoy about this at the Nationals last week, his message was clear: if you want a new challenge, you'll find it.

He's right, of course, His Royal Hoyness usually is. And who knows, perhaps this is the burning injustice that will motivate Romero to a third Olympic medal in different sports/events (rowing, track cycling and road cycling) and Wiggins to Tour de France glory. The UCI would struggle to scrap that.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bbc_matt

ps And if you want to read an interview with the man who helped Hoy get over losing his favourite event, click here. It's a great read.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Whilst I agree that costs always have to be taken into account, in something such as cycling, adding events rather than taking a few off the men to 'even the score', wouldn't add much to the overall cost.

    We are building a new velodrome and the village itself, that is where the major money goes, not in adding a few more womens events. It seems to me this 'idea' is more about the time frame for cycling in the Olympics (not wanting it to run for more than a week) than anything else.

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree that cycling is not being treated in the same way as Athletics or Swimming. When women's pole vault, hammer, and triple jump were added there was no "offsetting" against the men's events! Throw in 10,000 metres and steeplechase to the mix. Surely the addition of women's cycling events to mirror that of the men's would not result in a huge extra cost when the same venue would be used?

    And I wholeheartedly agree that we should remember the name Lizzie Armitstead. On the track or on the road she is outstanding, and only 20.

  • Comment number 3.

    Considering we won gold and silver in the women's individual pursuit we may well be considered favourites for the new team pursuit event for women.

    I seem to remember Victoria Pendleton and Shanaze Read have won the World title in the womens team sprint before so maybe this isn't all bad.

  • Comment number 4.

    Evening all, a few quick replies from me before I head for home.

    freddawlanen - I think you'd be on to something there with almost any other sport but track cycling is a bit of an exception. The programme has actually been criticised for being a bit light - 10 events over 5 days - particularly as most hosts have to build a new velodrome. Of course, this isn't completely the UCI's fault, it had to give up 2 events to get BMX in last time, and it has tried to stretch the programme so riders can double/triple up. So time isn't really a problem in the velodrome, especially if you compare the Olympic schedule to the World one. In fact, some have suggested that is why the UCI went for the omnium...it can run over five days and fill the gaps.

    But on the broader point, I think the IOC would say they can't let one sport add a few medals/athletes because they would then have to say yes to every sport, and trust me, every sport wants more events.

    Markp23 - Yep, you're absolutely right about those new events for athletics. I think that demonstrates the gulf in influence between the IAAF and the UCI. And thanks very much for so politely and subtly pointing out my misspelling of Armitstead. And is it definitely Lizzie not Liz? I've seen and heard both and she certainly answers to Liz.

    Ian_the_chopper - Absolutely. I'd say we have excellent chances in all the new women's events. Not all bad at all!

  • Comment number 5.

    If the same riders are going for the discarded events - eg Wiggins in the team and individual pursuits - I can't see how costs are altered that much removing them.

    Correct me if I'm wrong (I'm an athletics fan but find track cycling very exciting) but isn't the 4k individual pursuit the blue riband event of the track? Isn't removing it like removing the 1500m from the Track and Field program?

  • Comment number 6.

    The thing is, some of the new Women's events could have been added to the 2008 schedule anyway, with not too much of an impact upon the amount of riders. With the Womens Sprint already there, all of them plus a few would do the Keirin, and then there would barely be anymore Women needed in order to make the Team Sprint.

    Individual pursuit is one of the figurehead events, but again a lot of the participants, maybe all of them, will also be in the Team Pursuit. So where are these extra cyclists coming from?

    I guess the argument against Points Race and Madison is that they are 'too confusing'. But, surely the Omnium is more so? Nevermind the fact that any cyclist doing the Omnium will almost certainly only be doing the Omnium.

    There should be an equality in terms of sprint/endurance events as well as between men/women.

  • Comment number 7.

    It seems to me that UCI have not been as politically astute as they might have been. As Matt says the IOC don't want the games to be bigger with more people (athletes, coaches, officials, journalists), but how much do they object to a few more medals?

    The stated aim in Beijing was a maximum of 500 cyclists on the track, road, BMX and MTB. I assume UCI have looked closely at how their event changes will affect numbers, but to me it is hard to see how adding a women's team pursuit and team sprint will help keep numbers down. Obviously team events take more athletes than individual ones. Only three athletes started the Beijing Men's IP without also being in the team pursuit. Without having checked the start lists I wonder how many athletes in the madison and points race doubled up elsewhere. Wiggins and Romero did for us. The omnium also looks like an event that is heavy on the numbers as it will be quite hard to do that one and double up in the team pursuit.

    I think UCI, IOC and Locog should be looking at the cycling timetable across all disciplines to see if they can fit in more track events and another day of finals. It would be good action, a ticket seller and better use of a very expensive purpose built venue. From a selfish national point of view it would be good for British cycling and Team GB, but also it would be good for the Games.

    They would need to show how they could keep athlete numbers under the target limit 500 , but I don't think that is impossible. Hardly anyone qualified for the keirin or sprint isn't already there in the team sprint, and similarly the vast bulk of Individual pursuiters will already be part of the team pursuit.

    It just seems a real shame that UCI have come up with what seems like a poor plan to achieve gender equality, and even more of a shame that it doesn't seem that the national federations are trying hard to change it.

    As others have said the Open water swimming didn't cause swimming to lose events in the pool. Like swimming track cycling can see athletes doubling and trebling up. Hopefully it isn't too late for UCI to do some number crunching and present a cycling programme that gives IOC gender equality and no increase in athlete numbers for cycling, while also giving endurance athletes more chance to shine, and LOCOG could get another night of cycling at their velodrome.

    Fingers crossed

  • Comment number 8.

    No madison at 2012? I'm gutted, really.

    Yes it is confusing the first few times you watch it but so are many sports (anyone care to tell me the rules of Taekwondo?). When you do know the rules though it's one of the most exciting cycle races their is.

  • Comment number 9.

    From a personal point of view, I'm gutted for Wiggo probably not getting the chance to go for a triple gold in his home country. But, like I said, this is a personal point of view, dictated by emotion and the fact that I'm a big fan of his. I think credit needs to go to the author of this blog for writing something very even-handed and rational when it could so easily have been another bout of whinging (as has been seen on so many of the cycling forums).

    For two of the cyclists mainly affected there is some good news though:

    - Wiggins: Yes, he's lost the chance of a hat-trick in the pursuit but possibly this will make him concentrate 100% on Le Tour for the next few years? He's certainly not going to topple Contador, but with a dedicated training schedule he may just get ahead of the Schlecks and Armstrong in 2011 (though I do realise time isn't on his side).

    - Romero: Judging from her history all she needs to do is write down a list of all Olympic sports, put on a blindfold and stick a pin in one of them. She'll probably win gold.

  • Comment number 10.

    Perhaps if the UCI was really serious about equality it would make equal the distances over which men and women compete on the track and on the road. Perhaps it could also make equal the number of athletes included in mens' and womens' team events, both sprint and pursuit.

    Whilst 5 track competitions each for men and women is a step in the right direction, it isn't quite the same as what athletics and swimming have done with regards competitions like the hammer, triple jump, steeplechase, pole vault and 1500m in the pool.

    The inclusion of the Keirin baffles me, despite the fact the I enjoy watching it and that Brits are successful currently. The programme is already heavily weighted in favour of sprint athletes. The Keirin has its roots in both professionalism and gambling, neither of which fit in to the Olympic ideal. Surely the retention of a longer event would add more to track cycling's appeal at any Olympic meet?

  • Comment number 11.

    Victoria Pendleton is so fit, I really want her to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.

  • Comment number 12.

    for me the solution (albiet in an ideal world) would be to axe the sports where the olympics is not a priority. the olympics is not the most important event of the year for sports like football and tennis. this would free up more time, space and money for proper olympic sports like cycling and athletics where a medal really represents the pinnacle of an athlete's achievement.

  • Comment number 13.

    Small-scale thinking from mediocre minds.



  • Comment number 14.

    I suggest that the basic assumption that there should be the same events for men and women is faulty. You draw attention to this issue by mentioning wrestling and synchronised swimming and then ignore the point. Would it be sensible to insist that there are as many synchronised swimming events for men as women? Surely there should be a relationship between the medals available and the number of participants in the sport. I suspect that there are far more male competitive cyclists than women and that pro rata there may well be relatively fewer medals available for men than women. Equality is all very commendable but it should be tackled with a bit of common sense.

  • Comment number 15.

    Some more replies:

    lairdtim (5) - Yes, the individual pursuit and the 1500m are good comparisons. Definitely one for the traditionalists.

    sportingnonsense (6) - I think your arithmetic is probably correct and more medals could have been added on the women's side without increasing the overall head count by a significant amount. After all, the IOC has allowed boxing to add two more medals overall (the three women's events, minus one men's division) providing the total number of boxers remained the same. I also agree that there should be a better balance between the sprints and the distance events, particularly as the omnium is very probably an event you have to concentrate all your energies on. I think the UCI is hoping it will emerge as a blue riband event in the velodrome a bit like athletics' decathlon: the winner will be recognised as the world's best all-rounder. I don't know. Only time will tell.

    pariscyclist (7) - Good knowledge! 500 makes complete sense and reminds me that these problems have been brewing for the UCI for a while. Under pressure (from the manufacturers, sponsors, media, IOC etc) to freshen things up/keep the Games "relevant" they have added MTB and BMX in recent Games but have now run into what looks like an 18-medal limit, which ties UCI in third place with gymnastics and wrestling but still a long way behind the IAAF's 47 medals and Fina's 46. That doesn't sound like a fair reflection of cycling's growing popularity around the globe to me. And let's not forget that MTB is booming and will no doubt be wondering when it's going to get more medals.

    chrislee_88 (8) - I like the madison too but only after I got to see it live. I don't think it really works on TV, not for the general sports fan anyway. Likewise the points race. And the scratch is like the distance events on the track...a bit dull. This, however, is no reason to scrap them. The Olympics are full of sports that don't exactly pack them in or attract massive telly audiences. That is often part of their four-yearly charm.

    vcfsantos (9) - Thanks and I think you're right about Wiggo and Romero, who must now be a serious contender for the road time-trial.

    jharrison5 (10) - Yes, I was thinking about that too. I don't know why the female pursuiters do four laps less...seems a bit odd in this day and age. But I guess the team pursuit being for only three riders, not four, is because of some concern about the depth of women's track cycling. And I suppose if that's the case then it makes sense the three riders would only do 12 laps (four-ish on the front each?) not 16. All seems very old-fashioned to me, though.

    Gavelaa (11) - Erm...quite.

    Willspray (12) - Bingo! I was wondering how long it would take for somebody to raise this point. I agree with you completely. Deciding which sports those are, however, is a different blog.

    NormanNippy (13) - I'm hoping you're talking about the UCI/IOC and not the rest of us! If I'm right, yes, you could well be on to something there.

    Good night all and thanks for reading

  • Comment number 16.

    In terms of the Omnium and British riders, I wouldnt count on Lizzie Armiststead. She is an endurance track cyclist, while Omnium also requires good Sprint skills, something Armitstead is unlikely to develop with a promising road career ahead of her. We do currently have Anna Blyth though, she started off as a track sprinter but has already been looking more to endurance events. In 3 years time she could really be a top class omnium rider.

    And for the Men, look no further than Olympic medallist Steven Burke. Already a proven Endurance rider in the Individual Pursuit (an Omnium event) so should be able to perform in the Scratch and Points race sections. He is also the current National Kilometre champion - another of the Omnium events - leaving the 200m Sprint which would currently be his weakest discipline.

    Hugh Porter seems to think that Chris Newton would be a good idea for the Omnium but I disagree. While he would certainly excel in the Points and Scratch Race, he would struggle in the 200m TT and Kilo - and his Individual Pursuit wont be as good as it once was.

  • Comment number 17.

    Track cycling is boring and too easy. To be a good cyclist you have to do the TdF, the Giro and the Vuelta. It's like Whist compared to Bridge. Hence my admiration for Wiggins, he was brilliant in the Tour. The best cyclist in the world, without doubt, is Alberto Contador.

  • Comment number 18.

    Don't post this - I'm bloody impressed that you reply to individual comments and just wanted to say thanks!

  • Comment number 19.

    Starting with the positive, I am pleased that there is finally going to be equality for men and women which is long overdue and hopefully victoria pendleton.

    However I am both surprised and gutted about the planned removal of the individual pursuits. For me this race, especially for the men is something of a blue ribbon event and has so much history attached. I'm sure I'm not alone in the one track race I remember over the years is chris boardmans incredible displays in Barcelona olympics in 1992 on the lotus superbike and whilst no doubt some of this bias is down to being British, it gives variety to the programme which surely should be seen as a positive.

    As much as I enjoyed chris hoy and pendleton in the sprints and the tactical cat and mouse battles that ensued

  • Comment number 20.

    IT problems mean I posted before I'd finished!

    My favourite race were the pursuit and watching the athletes leaving everything on the track and going flat out over 4 and 3kms. In that respect I disagree with the above post and feel it reflects the 400m far better than the 1500m due to the lack of tactics, it's just about getting on the pace and surviving at the highest level of intensity sustainable over 16 and 12 laps of the track.

    The emphasis has certainly been more on sprinting over recent Olympiad with the removal of the kilo after Athens. Track cycling is about more than just sprinting and yet the powers that be seem to be losing that fact

  • Comment number 21.

    "Leaving aside any debate on the attraction of women's Greco-Roman wrestling"....

    Erm, it would be a lot more attractive than watching men's Greco-Roman wrestling (and the Olympic viewing figures would get a beach volleyball-type boost).

  • Comment number 22.

    Any reason why the cycling is moving to London when there is a perfectly good velodrome in Manchester

  • Comment number 23.

    My solution would be a compromise

    Team Sprint (Men)
    Sprint (Both)
    Keirin (Both)
    Points (Both)
    Individual Pursuit (Both)
    Team Pursuit (Both)

    This seems like a balanced programme that would appease everybody. I believe that there should be a slight bias towards Male events in certain disciplines where the quantity and quality of competitors is superior. A 6-5 split in track cycling makes perfect sense to me as the Women's Team Sprint lacks the prestige of the other events. Surely the UCI and BC (British Cycling) could push for 11 track cycling events at the 2012 games.

    We also avoid the Omnium becoming an olympic event, it needs to be placed on the World Cup schedule first and undergo a trial period to see if it can attract the upper echelon of cyclists (and to assess how many riders can excel as all-rounders). There is no room for the Kilometre Time Trial, but surely this is an opportunity for the UCI World Cup to use the event as the jewel in its crown (promotion and a premium slot on the schedule would ensure that the Kilo retains its place in track cycling).

    To respond to a couple of points you have made Matt:

    1. The Points race is surely the most obvious candidate to be retained from the distance events. It is the primary event of a number of cyclists (to a far greater extent than the Madison) and is a an exciting spectacle (to a far greater extent than the Scratch Race).

    2. The Omnium is not an established (or widely respected) event and its rushed inclusion to the Olympics will not make for good competition (see my concerns above; essentially what we don't want to see is a large number of riders placing well in their specialist event whilst putting in modest efforts in the other disciplines).

  • Comment number 24.

    @Aardvarkmack:
    At first glance, I pretty much agreed with everything you said. But then I got to thinking about why, in an ostensibly gender neutral sport, there is a disparity between the participation levels of men and women; and whether maybe there are fewer women precisely because there are fewer opportunities for medals. Perhaps this levelling of the playing field will encourage more women to take up the sport.

  • Comment number 25.

    @Antagony

    Totally agree... although in favour of an equal mix, the strength in depth of events has to be looked at. For example, 25 women took part in the sprint at the latest world championships, compared to 45 men. Surely if you want total equality, the number of entrants should be the same?

    Also, by favouring the team persuit over the individual, is this not favouring the big countries? Realistically, a smaller nation is not going to have as good as chance of a medal as a team of 4 riders are now needed... This narrows the result down to no more than 6 teams I would say...

  • Comment number 26.

    I am all for female equality in cerebral areas such as politics, business, employment, unionism, religion, arts, academia, public service and science....but I draw the line at sport. For the sake of "political correctness" (a form of fascism) the clowns in power are trying to give "equality" to women athletes. But the fact is women are a long way behind men in most sports and always will be because of obvious physical differences. You cannot denature human beings for the sake of dubious ideals. Otherwise, you really do denature them and create androgyny. Women were brought into international competition because they needed to have an outlet to express the desire for some of them to play sport. Fair enough. But one has to be realistic and not try to bring down high performing male atheletes to a lower level for the sake of "equality". We are already seeing many sports sanatised of their physical power elements to encourage women. This is a form of envy. I sympathize with Bradley Wiggins: one of the greats, who will now apparently have to step aside for the sake of "political correctness". Madness. Sheer Madness. I will be deserting sports appreciation before much longer as this trend continues.

  • Comment number 27.

    Re 15) : Matt: "But I guess the team pursuit being for only three riders, not four, is because of some concern about the depth of women's track cycling."

    That would seem to contradict the "equality" aim; even suggesting certain medals are easier to attain.

    The "lack of depth" observation seems to reflect the crudity of just trying to match a total number of available medals to show matching stats, rather than perhaps being a bit more scientific and maybe reflecting something such as participation levels.

  • Comment number 28.

    " At 05:41am on 31 Oct 2009, Hughesinho wrote:

    Any reason why the cycling is moving to London when there is a perfectly good velodrome in Manchester"

    Ermm.....Because it's the London Olympics...not the Manchester Olympics.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Matt

    First up, good blog as usual (interesting, informative and you actually read and reply to user comments - keep up the good work).

    Leaving aside for the moment whether there should be more womens events, surely its obvious that there should be more cycling events. As you say most countries need to build a new velodrome (or at least significantly upgrade an existing one) to host the Olympics and this won't be cheap. Once built the organisers should be trying to generate as much revenue from it as possible (so they minimise the net cost of cycling within their overall Olympic budget). If the cycling program is also seen as light, simplest way to address both issues is to increase the number of events. As other people have already said costs won't be much higher (certainly relative to the cost of building/renovating the velodrome), while more events should attract more people, television coverage and sponsor airtime. This in turn could increase post Olympic usage from the local community (again helping to pay back the initial cost). Organisers by restricting the number of events are effectively forcing cycling into a loss-making position.

    Re. mens vs womens events, I'd drop the omnium (which has an individual pursuit and points race anyway) for both sexes (reducing the program by 10 races) and reinstate the proper individual pursuit and points races for men and women (4 races in total). Net result, 6 less races probably saving cost and most racers and fans are happy !

  • Comment number 30.

    i am just sick and tired of all this. the olympics is not about soccer, tennis, rugby, cricket, or rugby or golf. get rid of these and then we can get back to what the olympics is all about. then we can not drop the cycling events but accomodate more. sorry to you football fans but i feel that there is too much of it, and golf. it's never ending.

  • Comment number 31.

    @akaeyenstien - well said!

    The problem is more in the labelling. The mens events need to be renamed "open" events where "theoretically" anyone, regardless of gender or whatever, can enter. Because these events do not discriminate they should be treated in a different way to those events that do discrimate (on things like gender, weight, age, disabilities etc).

    The problem is that nearly all "open" events are labelled "mens" and so people expect them to be given the same privileges as "womens" events.

    I don't know what the situation is like in cycling. But I would not expect an even number of medals if there are significantly more people (doing that sport day in day out) of one gender than another.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think I agree with much of what is being said, though I would say that I watched an omnium once with Steven Burke in it (on the BBC - but I can't remember what meeting it was), and I couldn't really take it seriously. I know that relatively new concepts such as the Keirin take a while to bed in, but I'm not convinced about the omnium being better than an event such as the individual pursuit.

    The omnium is supposed to be the equivalent of the decathlon or heptathlon, but the problem is that there is an inherent sameness in all the events, that is, it's someone riding a bike, just over different distances and in subtly different ways. The athletics multi-disciplinarians get to do a combination of different throws, jumps and varying distance runs, which are very different from each other.

  • Comment number 33.

    Evening all, lots of great comments made in last 24 hours, a few final thoughts from me while I watch MOTD:

    sportingnonsense (16) - Good shout re: Steven Burke, makes sense. Lizzie A, however, told me herself that she fancies the omnium and thinks that it suits her perfectly. Nothing wrong with a bit of self-confidence.

    portodelpicassco (17) - I disagree with your first point but agree about AC.

    buymeespresso (18) - You're welcome. If the author of a blog doesn't reply to comments it's not a blog. It's a feature/column with a message board attached.

    riley ives (19/20) - Yep, I agree. They've lost the balance between the disciplines. Not good.

    srminton (21) - Good point.

    hughesinho (22) - Daft point.

    asdfg101 (23) - Can't disagree with any of that. But am I being naive in thinking that the UCI would have sounded the IOC out about levelling things up WITHOUT going over 10 medals?

    antagony (24) - Thank you, you've saved me making exactly the same point/argument. The Olympic movement should be taking a lead on this....letting women's ski jumping into the Winter Games would be a good start. For me it's a similar debate to equal prize money at Wimbledon. It might not make competitive or economic sense but it IS the right thing to do and will, in time, get you the result you're looking for, more depth and quality on the women's side.

    noorwich (25) - Yep, you're right. It must be a balance. To use boxing as an example, there is no point going straight to eight weight divisions each. The depth on the women's side just isn't there yet and the boxing federation knew it, asking for five divisions and accepting three.

    akaeyeeinstein (26) - I don't think anybody is suggesting that men and women should compete against each other. There's men's competition and women's competition. Two different things, with their own pros and cons, and both equally deserving of their place at an Olympics.

    reaper of souls (27) - Yes, that's the balance/evolution thing again. I just think the IOC should be taking a lead on this issue, not waiting for others to act first.

    megaspur (28) - Well spotted.

    Hi_its_me (29) - Thanks and you're welcome. I agree with all of that!

    tricky463 (30) - That's more like it! Let's clear some space in the schedule/village by getting rid of those sports that don't really need to be at the Olympics.

    westmeadboy (31) - I think you're missing the point. Yes, in most sports, the best man will beat the best woman. So what? Why can't women compete on a more level playing field against other women? Why isn't that a valid contest? The bottom line is that women just aren't encouraged to take part in sport in the same way men are, and that's not right, fair or particularly good for society. The Olympics is the perfect forum to address this by setting a good example in terms of equality and creating role models for women to follow.

    super_stevie_f (32) - Yep, I fear you might be right. And that is certainly what Hugh Porter told me last week. Who knows, though. The Olympic omnium might develop into something really special in time. I just wish they had kept at least one other distance event in there too.

    Right, that really is it from me. Thanks for reading.



  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Matt. Thanks very much for your response. I appreciate it.

    In your response, replace "man" with "young adult" and "woman" with "child". Or maybe, use weight, or maybe height, or maybe disabilities. You get the same argument. My point is why use gender as your discriminator and not other factors? I would imagine a short man would have no chance against the best women high jumpers. So where's the level playing field there?

    The olympic motto is "swifter, higher, stronger". You can take that to mean one of two things. One, the swiftest, fastest, strongest in the world. Two, the swiftest, fastest, strongest any individual can be given the limitations they currently have (catchy?). The first is covered by an "open" event. The second, requires people to only compete against themselves. No two people have the same limitations. We are all unique in this sense.

    Both of these are intriguing in very different ways, but anything in between (e.g. discriminating on gender) doesn't make logical sense to me. Indeed, it starts to break down like in the huge mess surrounding Caster Semenya.

    My final point is about women not being encouraged to take part in sport. I agree that's true for most countries and for most sports. But what about men not being encouraged to do synchronized swimming. Using the same argument we should insist on men's synchronized swimming.

  • Comment number 35.

    In the Olympics there are 2 types of sport - pure sport that requires no matter of opinion judgement and the rest. If the IOC want to resolve cost issues then scrap any sports that depend on judges and promote those that don't !

  • Comment number 36.

    Inequalities aside I think there is a practical solution. Put the individual pursuit back in both(it's the best test of a rider on the track) Drop the Keirin in both - what a silly race that is (more like a circus act!)..... noone is really interested in it apart Japanese competitors where they are used to crowds placing bets on it at home.

  • Comment number 37.

    I think the UCI's decision shows their real disregard and lack of understanding of track cycling, as they appear to have just gone for the events that look more spectacular on tv to the uninformed, and not the events that track cycling is all about.

    If you go to the vast majority of track meetings from club level up to international, you'd be hard pushed to find team sprints and women's keirins, let alone women's team pursuits. Track cyclists have raced match sprints, IPs, points races and madisons for over a hundred years and these will remain the life blood of the sport with or without the olympics.

    The inclusion of the omnium is a cop out so that the UCI don't have to own up to losing all endurance events! It's tried and tested at national championships around the world and holds little if any prestige. Team pursuiters will avoid it because of the programme clashes and sprinters won't fit it in - what's the point?

    I accept that some events need to make way for others, but let's have some common sense here. I'd get rid of the omniums, women's team pursuit and (begrudgingly) the team sprint and keep the IP, points races and men's madison

  • Comment number 38.

    A number of posters have made the point that they think it unfair that womne should have an equal number of events because it doesn't reflect participation levels. Matt responded that he felt if there are more events and more medals, more women will take part. He's dead right that women are held back by the innate chauvinism of cycling. This year, my girlfriend, a veteran track racer, should have shared a trophy and award for being the joint top veteran (with a man)bsed on points scored through the season at a regional track league. But she was denied the award because, she was told to her face, "We always give it to a man". This is an appalling situation and the UCI and the Olympic authorities should be given credit for addressing it. Yes, it means events have to be lost, but the line up of events isn't fixed in stone for ever and the UCI should be given credit for actually esuring there will be MORE racing because of the omnium. Don't kid yourself - this is a tough, exciting event and will attract very high quality riders. Having watched both Armitstead and Newton race this weekend, I'd say they are both natural omnium riders. Perhaps the critics should try sprinting as fast as they both can?

  • Comment number 39.

    Great so they are going to create the impression of equality by forcing individual sports to have equal numbers of medals for women and men. Not sure that this will do anything to tackle underlying issues of inequality in participation and access. Perhaps they could make the last games look a bit more equal by taking a few medals off the men.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think that the individual pursuit for both sexes should deffinately be in the programme. I like the madison as i think Mark Cavendish has a chance to prove himself in that and also Wiggo. I'm sure 4 more events would not cost a huge amount especially, as someone said, that most of the cyclist will already be doing another event. Our teams are still awesome 8cycling golds at 2012 from team GB

  • Comment number 41.

    Some excellent points in this debate (and of course the odd strange ones). Sorry I am late. Matt – good to see you starting to recognise the injustice. Cycling remains a sport with quite a lot of work to do facing up to equality of provision.
    Issues re - numbers of competitors - .main problem to address is the road race. Men – main nations allowed 5 man teams, women just 3. Ok the men’s race is longer (why?), but if 2 out of your 3, are potential medallists then your bottle carrier is not going to be up for much of a chase, come the pointy end of the race. A 5 up team start will result in a very different tactical situation from a 3 up team start. Cav’s lead out train is going to look a little slim on 1 rider and 1 exhausted bottle fetcher. In reality giving the men’s teams 5 riders just ensures that the odds are stacked in the favour of the traditionally strong nations against a good single rider from another nation. But then team tactics are very much part of the sport and perhaps this is a desired outcome. Either way – it needs to be cut the same way for men and women.
    Track. To talk about lack of depth in women’s track is amusing. It is entirely true but then the identical argument holds for the men’s track scene. When 1st World nations like Canada do not have a single indoor track, when there is just 1 in the whole of Russia, the lack of competition emerges. Access to year long training venues for track cycling makes rowing look like a paragon of access for poor (& rich) nations. (Will a Canadian track cyclist ever be able to compete against team GB with only the summer to train?)
    Given that more boats have turned out for the last two Yngling World Champs than for the men’s sprint cycling events makes somewhat of a mockery of making the sprint event male/female medal count 6 and axing Yngling to make way for a more popular boat. However, reducing the sprint cycling medal count to 1 for men and 1 women, in London, would not be politically acceptable given (i) the media hype that followed Bejing (don’t want to deflate that bubble!) & (ii) team GB scenting 6 medals. GB has 3 indoor tracks and is the only nation to seriously fund its track programme. The boys and girls do brilliantly but road cycling is where the competition is. All of track cycling has comparative lack of depth – male and female. In fact participation levels create a stronger argument for keeping the track distance events and including the sprint events in an omnium.
    So as the “lack of competition” argument is totally flawed, then women’s events should match men’s. The women’s team pursuit should be four and there is no reason whatsoever that it should be 1km shorter (just as there was no argument that the sprint TT should be 500m for the women and was 1,000m for the men).
    The UCI can make a start prior to London. Women’s TT to 1,000m. Sprint TTT 3 riders, Pursuits equal distances and team pursuit equal rider count and distances. Take the 9 day limit of grand tours for women and place the same race length limits on the men as for women’s road events. The men deserve to be protected from the scourge of drugs as much as female riders.
    Any chance of that little lot happening? Well done Emma Pooley. A terrific road season. A pity that it was virtually ignored by the British media. Why ?

  • Comment number 42.

    I found this blog while trying in vain to find why the World Para Cycling from Manchester has been dropped from the Freeview Red Button Schedule this weekend: see the rider (!)http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pressred/2009/10/whatson-31oct.shtml.

  • Comment number 43.

    RE my 42: Mea Culpa: there was coverage on 7 November form 20:35 onwards, only the highlights were few: from Day One (as in Friday)and focussing almost entirely on British results.

  • Comment number 44.

    For more inequality in cycling see article about Steve Peat. Mountain bking is almost completely ignored by the main stream media, especially Down Hill, where Steve is now world champion and has more world cup wins than any other rider in the discipline. Tracy Mosely came second in the worlds and Gee Atherton won last year. All of these riders are British. There is more to cycling than road and track, there's much more to cycling than the tour de france and olympic golds. Rant over!

  • Comment number 45.

    Stoichio. Steve Peat sits on a bike and does a wonderful job of controlling it downhill. Does he compete against more competitors than the track riders ? A quick look at 2 World Cup results this year indicate that this is akin to track and in some track disciplines, significantly more competitive. At Maribor the total men’s field was 83 with 18 of these GBR – a staggering near 25%. At the final round in Schladming it was 80 with 19 being GBR. On the women’s side it was respectively 20 with 4 GBR and 19 with 4 GBR. At Maribor 8 of the remaining other 16 competitors were French. On this evidence it would appear that downhilling is a lifestyle thing, like snowboarding and paragliding. Hell of a lot of fun and if you can find somebody to pay you to do it – great. A couple of nations are funding riders seriously via whatever means (12 out of 20 in the women’s field being GBR/FR !!!!). It is of terrific interest to those that are interested. But like cycle trials, indoor artistic cycling, cycle ball or cycle speedway, it is not mainstream. For myself – you would have to sedate me to unconscious, in order to be able to strap me down on the taxi that downhillers use to get to the top of the hill, so that they can start their “race” in a relaxed and rested state – cycling up the hill is the main athletic achievement of the ride/race. I like a key part of any sport I watch, to feature ultimate athletic effort and all the trials and tribulations that go with that. (Yep - that rules out one heck of a lot of things some others might classify as “sport”). My personal opinion is that Steve Peat gets more than his fair share of coverage. OK so there are plenty of Olympic disciplines that feature very little participation and some of those are in cycling. But Cycling - Road - is global and is competitive and is athletic.
    The current reigning Olympic Tug of War champions are -------GBR. It last made an appearance in 1920 as men only (obviously). In 1908 GBR did superbly. Winners were GBR – City of London Police, Silver went to GBR – Liverpool Police and Bronze went to (now who do we think ?) GBR - Metropolitan Police – K Division. I don’t want to know about tug of war championships or far less read about them, but at an athletic level they offer more than some things that are pushed at us by a media that often treats us as cretins, and yes I have watched and competed in Tug of War competitions. A great pastime, a hell of a lot of fun. Steve Peat – well done on him, but not under-represented in the press.

  • Comment number 46.

    It is worth noting that many of the greatest tour riders first became known as pursuiters, notably Coppi, Anquetil and Hinault and I have no doubt that Boardman, without his hormonal problems, would have become another one. Whose idea is it to drop it? Does anyone think that the keirin is preferable?

 

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