Sparked by a recent press release from an event organiser, we’ve been having a bit of debate about prize money, so we thought we’d see what you have to say. We know you might argue ‘it’s the taking part that counts’, and that prize money only matters materially to a very few – but perhaps it matters in other ways. Maybe prizes are symbolic of how much we value riders, the prestige we give to winning an event, or even signalling who we want to take part?
Let’s take a quick look at the information that set us off thinking about this. For the event, the prize money was as follows:
- 1st – €500 (Men)/ €120 (Women)
- 2nd – €300/ €80
- 3rd – €200/ €60
It should also be noted that if less than 15 women participate, the women’s prize money drops to 50% of the above values.
Hmm…we wondered. Is this fair? Is this right? Can it be justified? Everyone pays the same entry fee, everyone rides the same course. The race organisers explained to us that the difference in prize money is because they have 500 men racing, but only 10 women.
You could look at this a few ways – if you’re one of the ten women racing, there are some reasonable odds that you’re going to win some money. You could also argue that the 500 or so men are subsiding the women’s prize fund with their entry fees. But if you’re that winning woman, is your achievement any less than the winning bloke? Should your prize money be less because other women chose not to race? Are there fewer women racing because the prizes aren’t equal, or attractive? What about other relatively small fields – perhaps vets, or juniors – are they getting proportionately smaller prizes? And should they?
Looking at the Enduro World Series, in 2017 there were 274 men, and 87 women who scored points in at least one round of the pro level EWS. Ten women competed in every round, compared to around 30 men. About three times as many men as women then. The prize money for the EWS? Equal. That includes all the continental and qualifying rounds too – see Rule 14 if you’re interested.
Men and women winning a continental event will be award a minimum of €500, although organisers are encouraged to offer more than the minimum. Chris Ball, EWS Organiser, explains:
‘For us it’s simple, yes there are less women, but the racing at the very top for the podium is just as competitive and the very top female racers dedicate just as much energy and risk as the men. So proportional prize money based on category size are a little irrelevant to some extent.’
So that’s another way of looking at it – it takes effort to be at the top, and that should be rewarded. The UCI Mountain Bike World Cups for both XCO and Downhill also offer equal prize funds for men and women – again despite different field sizes.
Of course it’s not just mountain biking where prize funds differ – road cycling is notoriously inequitable, and female pros don’t have a minimum wage, though the men do. Given the prize fund equivalence of UCI mountain bike events, this perhaps seems all the more curious. Often the argument given is that events would not be financially viable if the prize funds were equal. But then if the prizes aren’t sufficient to support and attract racers and their training, will the event ever be viable? And other sports – triathlon often being cited as a good example – race men and women over equal courses for equal prizes, and even attract sponsors despite a lack of TV coverage (often also cited as a reason why an un-televised women’s event should pay less).
Are there no easy answers? Or is it simply a case of equal being the only fair way? Answer our poll and tell us what you think.
Can’t see the poll? Click here
And if you think you have another solution, let us know in the comments below!
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