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UCI aims for quota equality in men's and women's road events for 2024 Paris Olympics

The women's Olympic Games road race
The women's Olympic Games road race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The UCI recently announced the number of athletes that each National Olympic Committee has qualified for road events during the Olympic Games in Tokyo, with spots for 130 men and 67 women. This startling but historic lack of parity has many questioning the UCI's commitment to equality in professional cycling. In response, the UCI has told Cyclingnews that it aims for total equality between men and women road cycling quotas by the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

"Today, equality between men and women has been reached when it comes to the number of events at the Olympic Games [11 for each gender across the five cycling disciplines]. As for the number of participating athletes, parity is guaranteed for three of the five disciplines – mountain bike [38 athletes], BMX Racing [24] and BMX Freestyle [9] – and has almost been reached for track [98 compared to 91, essentially due to the composition of the teams for the team sprint]," a UCI spokesperson told Cyclingnews.

"Concerning road cycling, the quotas allocated to women riders increased from 45 in 1984 to 67 in 2004 and is maintained for 2020, whereas those for men has decreased from a maximum of 184 in 1996 to 130 today.

"The Union Cycliste Internationale is fully committed to pursuing an objective of total equality between the two genders for participation at the Olympic Games. In line with the UCI's Agenda 2022, we mean to make this ambition a reality for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

"Discussions on how to achieve this aim are ongoing with the International Olympic Committee."

There has been a general evolution toward parity in cycling, however slow it might seem at times. Last June, UCI President David Lappartient announced his commitment to gender equality through Agenda 2022, at the approval of the UCI's Management Committee. The agenda included several structural initiatives concerning the governing body's future role in gender equality within the sport.

The UCI now enforces as one of its promises a strict Code of Conduct signed by all employees of UCI Women's Teams, which aims to raise awareness of harassment. It also promised to develop and implement a Charter to promote gender equality in cycling, starting with a gender equality policy and the fundamental principles on its aim to implement equal pay within the organisation.

Other topics outlined in the agenda include guaranteeing gender equality during podium ceremonies and providing equal prize money in its cyclo-cross World Cup.

At that time, Lappartient said that the agenda "contains crucial initiatives for guaranteeing equality between men and women, whether they be riders, Federation employees or any other women involved in our sport. It is essential that we all work together for this cause, which is one of my biggest priorities for action."

The UCI has also prompted new developments toward parity within women's professional cycling. Part of the newly implemented reforms sees the introduction of a minimum annual salary; €15,000 [employed] or €24,600 [self-employed], along with additional insurances such as maternity leave for athletes who are contracted with top-tier Women's WorldTeams beginning in 2020. The aim is for the women's minimum salary to equal the Professional Continental men's teams minimum salary by 2023.

The UCI is also set to enforce 45 minutes of live TV coverage for all Women's WorldTour events to improve visibility of the highest level of the sport. Also, the UCI has shown an increasing commitment to athlete safety with significant updates to its UCI Code of Ethics to help better protect athletes from harassment.

But at a time when women's professional cycling is experiencing steady growth in professionalism, participation, and equality within the sport is front and centre, the discrepancy between the number of athletes participating in the men's and women's road events at the Tokyo Olympic Games is a major red flag.

Shorter course, fewer riders for women in Tokyo

When American Connie Carpenter won the gold medal in the very first women's road race at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she competed among a field of 45 women, while her compatriot Alexi Grewal won gold among a field of 135 men. Participation spots in road events hit a maximum at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where there were 200 men and 67 women competing.

Next summer in Tokyo, there will be 130 men competing in a 234km route from Musashinonomori Park and ending at the Fuji International Speedway. The course will include four climbs: Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass, and the outer slopes of Mt Fuji, with a total of 4,865 metres of climbing.

In comparison, the women's field remains unchanged since 2004 at 67 starters. They will race 137km also from Musashinonomori Park and ending at the Fuji International Speedway. The women's course will not go over the iconic Mt. Fuji but will include climbs over Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass, and total 2,692 metres of climbing.

There were mixed reactions when the routes were revealed, with some suggesting that the women's course was nothing more than a watered-down version of the men's course.

Iris Slappendel, executive director at The Cyclists' Alliance [TCA] told Cyclingnews that equal quota in men's and women's road events at the Olympic Games was one of the main objectives ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cyclingnews understands that equal quotas were also the main objective for Marianne Vos in her role as the UCI Athletes Commission Women's Road Representative. The athletes' representative has a seat in the UCI Road Commission, where Vos addressed her concern regarding equal quotas at the Olympic Games.

Although equal quotas in road events were not achieved ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the UCI says that it remains committed to achieving equality by the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Cyclingnews understands that the athlete quota for each discipline is determined by the International Olympic Committee [IOC] Executive Board almost four years ahead of the Olympic Games. The quotas for each discipline at the Paris Olympics will be decided in December 2020.

Cyclingnews understands that before the decision on athlete quota, each International Federation [IF] has to make its proposal to the IOC for consideration of the Olympic Programme Commission that makes a recommendation to the IOC Executive Board. The IOC then comes to observe any newly proposed events to assess their suitability for the Olympic Games. Prior to the UCI making the submission, the individual Commissions make their recommendation [based on sporting criteria], and an overall proposal is pulled together and presented to the Management Committee.

The UCI has told Cyclingnews that the discussion around how to achieve parity in road events is ongoing with the IOC.

However, Cyclingnews understands that if the total number of quotas for the sport of cycling and each discipline remains the same as the Tokyo Olympics, then there are some possible ways to reach equal starting spots for the men's and women's road events.

One approach would be to redistribute the starting spots evenly between men's and women's fields, for example, there would be roughly 98 riders in each field. Another approach could be to reallocate spots from other cycling disciplines such as Track, MTB or BMX to the road events.

If the UCI intends to achieve total equality between the two genders for participation at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, then it will need to develop a plan on how it will reach this goal well in advance of the Games.

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.