Opinion: The Nicole Cooke testimony
Five OF OUR FAVOURITE WOMEN IN CYCLING highlight the passages of Nicole Cooke’s testimony that most riled and resonated…
"Just when you thought you couldn’t love her any more,” says Suze, “she came out with a full-throttled paean to the sisterhood of cycling."
Last week, Nicole Cooke did it again, pulling no punches with a testimony submitted to Parliament that presented damning evidence on the subjects of doping and sexism in cycling. Here are the words that most struck a chord...
Who: Director of Business Development at Amaechi Performance Systems
“With ex BC President Brian Cookson seeking another term in office, perhaps it would be well to compare actions with manifesto commitments before committing further public funds to support a subsequent bid.”
Chris says: Leadership sets the tone within any organisation. In the corporate world, leaders who fail to create inclusive workplaces and provide equal opportunities for men and women are quickly identified as transactional, regressive and not operating with the best interests of the organisation. An exclusive mindset impacts an organisation at every level, with far-reaching ramifications on the ability of employees to perform to their highest potential.
Women involved in cycling are tired. We’re tired of being portrayed as ‘pretty, delicate things’ by marketeers and media within the industry. We’re tired of waiting for cycling’s leaders to catch up to their corporate peers in the area of equality. We’re tired of the mental dinosaurs running the sport in Aigle and Manchester who continue to view us as ‘less than’ our male peers. And we’re tired of having to explain to men that issues of sexism are very real, and no, we shouldn’t put medal counts before the mental wellbeing of our athletes.
The fault in my mind, as Nicole intimates, lies with Brian Cookson. Until Cookson demonstrates a willingness to make cycling better for all and stops being interested in feathering his own parochial cap with more success from men’s road and a few token women on the track, then the public’s funding shouldn’t be granted.
If we continue with the status quo, then public funds are being used to further institutional sexism within cycling. We wouldn’t accept this within our offices and homes, and we shouldn’t be willing to accept it in our sporting organisations. If Brian Cookson wanted to make cycling better for all, he could do so tomorrow. Every day that passes without him living up to what has become his ‘alternative fact’ manifesto is another day that he perpetuates the exclusive nature of cycling around the world.
Who: Award-winning women's cycling journalist
“After my win at Beijing, British Cycling had bragged that the program of 'marginal gains’ meant that they had produced a skin suit for me to use while most of my competitors rode in shorts and a jersey. I had insisted on this in 2000, against the wishes of the BC management, and now it was trumpeted as an advantage of their thoroughness.
“However, for late 2008 they had once again “forgotten” to organise one and I was told to ride in shorts and jersey, which they had provided. Expecting this, I had brought to the championships my skin suit from the year before. Dave Brailsford was insistent that I could not wear it as it did not feature the logo of the new Sponsor Sky. Eventually a compromise was reached on the eve of the race, in which Emma Pooley, who had a needle and thread with her, cut out the Sky logo of the jersey and sowed it onto my old skinsuit.”
I found Nicole’s written evidence quite extraordinary and my initial reaction was one of incredulity, followed by a straightforward: ‘I can’t believe we’re still having to protest about this stuff’.
“There were so many examples that really made me sit up, but I chose this one because it is such a simple but telling illustration of the resourcefulness needed by the women involved. I mean, a sewing kit. Who carries one of those when they ride a bike? And who would expect to have to use it in a circumstance such as this? Unity between women has, and will, help pull us through the most difficult circumstances and demanding times: but the fact that the riders’ own team created this problem in the first place is just mind-blowing.
“In June 2006 I returned to the UK from Italy to race the British Championships that were being held in Yorkshire. I knew that both the local council and a UK Sport approved major event grant contributed the major part of the event budget. Of the British Road Riders of the time, I was significantly the most high profile and highest attaining. British Male success on the international circuit at that time was non-existent and previous British Winner, David Millar was still serving his ban for doping.
“The event preparations were as normal. The prize purse for the women’s race was a tiny fraction of that for the men and the pre-race publicity was all about the male race with a token mention of the women’s race. I had just won the Women’s Tour de France, to follow up a win in the Italian Giro of 2004.
“It was put to the Equalities Officer at UK Sport could this bias be investigated and BC management held to account for such discriminatory action. The response was very clear. Such an investigation was not in the remit of the Equalities Officer at UK Sport and nor would that Officer do anything with the information provided. If I had any issues I should take them up with BC. That I had already done so to no effect, was not his concern. He would do nothing.
What struck me about Nicole’s evidence and the way she gave it was how measured and considered she was. There was no attempt to sensationalise and she was careful to relate everything back to her own experience, so her observations were firmly grounded in the reality of her life as a woman cyclist.
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on at British Cycling and their attitude to Nicole Cooke over the years, her evidence in itself wasn't shocking. Neither, sadly, was the response from the usual suspects who leveled the usual accusations of how ‘difficult’ she is, or how she has an axe to grind.
I listened hard for the sound of metal being sharpened and heard only the measured, somewhat wearily amused tones of a woman who has been there, done that, got every T-shirt available and is still having to fight for the recognition her sport deserves.
Will her testimony change anything? She’s already done so much to raise the bar for women in cycling and she’s justifiably proud of the fact. I, for one, am glad she’s still prepared to put her head above the parapet to challenge the systemic sexism at British Cycling.
Who: Blogger behind Velo City Girl
"As a sport run by men, for men"
This is the line that riles me the most because I can’t believe it’s still true. There is so much talk on inclusivity and work being done towards equality, yet it sometimes feels like nothing is actually moving.
From the very top end of the sport to the grassroots (walking into a bike shop, for example), it still feels like a man’s world, which is something that has to change from the very top. It's tiring to be fighting for change (like the signs we saw on recent marches, saying: "I'm tired of still having to protest this shit!").
Something has got to give and it has got to give soon so that we're no longer seeing and experiencing cycling as a sport “run by men, for men.”
Who: Founder, London Women’s Racing
"As a sport run by men, for men"
To attempt to buck the trend in such a male dominated environment, I run a voluntary, not-for-profit organisation called London Women's Racing. We get novice women to pin a number on and try to keep them engaged in the sport.
I now know exactly which race organisers or promoters not to work with: those with a backwards looking view of women's sport who use and abuse volunteers to their financial benefit, or those who do not engage with the people around them. These are the people who ignore any benefit of working together to create a sustainable growth platform for amateur women's racing. I also now know where to place my dwindling time and efforts, working on the small bits we can change and staying miles away from the bits we can't.
But, I say to those who give their time, energy and passion to improving our sport - and there are plenty of them, men and women - thank you, and I say to those who might be looking backwards a bit too much, let's have a conversation. Grassroots development is key.