Being cycling obsessives, it might have escaped your notice that last weekend saw the start of the Coupe du Monde Féminine (or Women’s World Cup – but you know how we like the continental nomenclature). This will be the biggest edition of the competition in its history. Audience numbers are expected to easily exceed those of Canada four years ago.
Certainly in the UK they will be, with the BBC broadcasting every match, live and in full, either on TV or online. At least one game every couple of days is being shown on one of “Auntie’s” two terrestrial channels. It’s not just the home nations’ games, either, though those games understandably get the prime slots. Want to catch Netherlands v Cameroon on Saturday? Just plonk yourself down on the sofa at 2pm and flick to BBC1.
There is clearly interest. Pubs across London evidently think they can make a few quid out of it, and are using their blackboards to advertise that they’ll be showing every match, “LIVE”. We happened to watch England v Scotland in the bar of a certain south of the river non-league football club and it was standing-room only. It is one with a reputation for being more “woke” than most, but it felt significant all the same. That the match itself was an order of magnitude more exciting than either of the two recent men’s European finals was particularly satisfying.
It might also have escaped your notice, despite being cycling obsessives, that the Women’s Tour began this week as well. One of just seven Women’s WorldTour stage races on the entire calendar, and the only one in Great Britain, if you want to watch any of the action in the host country, the best you’ll be able to manage is an hour of highlights each evening on ITV4.
Highlights are better than nothing, of course, and that’s more than we’re given for most women’s races. As even your local boozer understands, however, sport needs to be experienced LIVE for it to mean something.
Equality, even in football, has been a long time coming and is still, obviously, a long way off. Women are paid a fraction of what their male counterparts are. The Allianz Riviera stadium was only a third full for the aforementioned England v Scotland match.
But significant progress has been made and the Women’s World Cup shows what cycling should aspire to. It’s what cycling fans of all stripes should be clamouring for. What if the BBC were to get behind women’s cycling the way it has women’s football?
The idea that women’s sport is, by some objective measure, inferior to men’s is objectively false, in fact. It is a myth propagated by those stuck in their ways, clinging to their positions of power as well as a redundant, outmoded status quo. It is also one that is a heckuva lot easier to refute with evidence to the contrary.
The Women’s Tour will offer at least as much of a spectacle as the men’s Tour of Britain in three months time. The only difference is you’ll be able to watch most of the latter as it happens.
This is, we promise, the only time we’ll ever say this but… cycling could learn something from football.