Anyone mildly interested in football, or who gave the papers more than a cursory glance at the end of January, can’t have failed to have seen the controversy surrounding Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
Both were, of course, recorded making sexist comments about assistant referee Sian Massey and West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady. After the comments came to light both are no longer with Sky.
While casual sexism from respected household names in the sport is bad enough, the repercussions – that it might put women off from getting into the game – are even worse.
By contrast the world of cycling seems much more, well, grown-up. It probably shocked few to hear of casual sexism in football, but that’s certainly not the kind of thing you expect to hear in the world of two wheels. Maybe having a good number of female cyclist figureheads, from the likes of Shanaze Reade and Nicole Cooke, helps. It’s also a sign of a more measured and mature sports community that has met the news of Graeme Obree’s coming out with widespread support. That there are currently no Premiership footballers openly admitting to being gay probably gives some indication of the differences between the two sports.
But if cycling is more ‘grown-up’, where gender and sexual preference are not stumbling blocks as they are elsewhere, then why is the cycling demographic so painfully one-sided?
British Cycling found last year that two per cent of British women cycle each week, compared with 6.8 per cent of men. We often hear that women feel intimidated or even patronised by seemingly male-orientated bike shops. And don’t even get started me on the number of women in the cycle trade.
The comparison between cycling and football might seem glib, but it illustrates that while cycling could be a lot worse, there is still much to do to make women feel as welcome as men in the world of cycling and in the trade.
It’s encouraging to see that cycling is trying to address the problem. Fittingly, at virtually the same time that the Gray and Keys saga was kicking off, Olympic Cycling Gold medallist Victoria Pendleton was launching a new initiative – the Cycletta Series – to encourage women to get into cycling. It’s that kind of effort that must be matched in all spheres of cycling, including the trade. Cycling may not be as bad as football at face value, but it’s not time to rest on our laurels just yet.