Last year I put up some cash primes in a couple of local races. It wasn’t a huge amount, but $4,000 in cash primes is a lot more than what people here usually race for. The result was that entries doubled compared to the year before and the races that had the cash primes were fast, furious, and strung out from corner-to-corner, start to finish.
But what was interesting is that the big turnout in the men’s fields wasn’t matched by the women, whose fields were small. Where the guys were champing at the bit to haul in some extra dough at season’s end to pay for a slightly nicer cardboard box, the women weren’t, even though the primes were identical for men and women, something that’s a unicorn in bike racing.
Prior to plunking down the cash I had several people tell me that it was wasted money. “The women won’t show up to race because they don’t care about the money.” I was advised to give the women a token amount and put the rest of the cash back into the men’s fields, which would result in more attendance and harder racing.
I refused out of principle. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
In the second race there were 20 women who started in the P/1/2/3 field as compared to four the previous week. Given that it was the end of the season, that was pretty solid turnout–and the women raced hard for the primes, and most of them showed up specifically because there were $100 bills on offer, ten of them in a 40-minute race.
This year I’ve started out with another $2,500 in cash primes for this weekend’s CBR in Compton, and again I’ve matched the men’s P/1/2 field and the women’s P/1/2/3 field with identical prime amounts. So far six women have pre-registered; I’m betting that at least thirty will show up to race. That’s a solid women’s field in SoCal for a local crit.
The people who say that women aren’t motivated by money are wrong. The reason that women turnout is depressed isn’t because women don’t like to make money racing, it’s because the sport has refused for years to give women equal earnings. Year in and year out women are told that because they don’t race in sufficient numbers they don’t deserve equal prize lists.
This is exactly what opponents of Title IX said back when the federal government required equal funding for college athletic programs. Once the money kicked in and women’s programs had funds to travel, hire coaches, and pay for equipment, participation soared. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a few hundred bucks at a local crit to energize thousands of women to take up bike racing, but it’s worth trying to equalize payouts and primes for a lot of reasons.
First, it’s fair. The women who show up, even though they are smaller in number, should be treated equally.
Second, it sends the message that women’s racing isn’t an afterthought, it’s a key part of the day’s events.
Third, over time it will increase women’s participation.
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