The Peter Sagan bum-pinching prank on a podium girl at the Tour of Flanders opened the debate as to whether or not it was time to ditch this tradition of attractive girls handing out prizes and jerseys at bike races.Many deem it at best as tired and outdated, at worst as sexist and degrading to women. As well as the Giro d'Italia organisers promoting their event as being the "toughest race in the World's most beautiful place" they even suffix this accolade by adding "....with the most beautiful girls. A promotional video boasts this fact. Furthermore the main sponsors of the Giro d'Italia organise a Miss Maglia Rosa beauty contest in which the winner becomes a podium girl as well as winning a cash prize, travel vouchers and a modelling contract. I guess the same people who are offended by podium girls will also find this rather offensive.
But really, what is so wrong with a lovely lady helping a handsome young man into his cycling jersey, handing him a cuddly toy and giving him a peck on the cheek at the end of his arduous 200km? If I were the bloke I'd feel honoured! And the girls doing the honours don't look like they are not enjoying it either!
Many years ago when I lived in Paris, in a fit of being swept along by the whole "I'm loving being in gay Paris" vibe I went to sign up with a casting agency that specialised in providing models for various types of promotional work. There was a long line of women queuing up hoping to have their name added to the ever increasing list of women hoping to get their break on TV or in some other high profile place. The young women were desperate to get bookings anywhere - whether it was washing powder, motorcar shows or cycle races. I wasn't selected, though I was relieved as I realised I didn't want to pursue this line - mainly because I couldn't guarantee my availability to do the work, and the pay was alot less than my day job.
Around 500 women will apply to a casting agency to become a Tour de France podium girl each year. Of these, fifty of them will be selected for interview. Of these 50, four will be selected to present the yellow jersey. Then pairs are selected to present the green jersey, polka dot jersey, and white jersey. There may be up to 10 vacancies, but you don't need to be Einstein to see that the odds of bagging such a job are very slim - slimmer than the podium girls themselves!
For an activity that is considered degrading there are alot of takers for this role. It appears that being a podium girl is a well sought-after gig!
Many woman would see this as a gold star to add to their modelling CV, and it could be a launch-pad to bigger and greater things - including becoming the wife of a high-profile bike racer!
Certainly the women who have become podium girls really enjoy it.
So why should folks be so outspoken about wanting to deprive women of what for them could be a very positive career move? Surely if the work is so terrible no one would do it? The Giro d'Italia organisers would still be crying out for women to get up on the dias at the end of each stage of the competition.
At a stage cyclosportive I rode in Italy a few years ago the organisers invited women from the audience to hand out prizes to the male winners of the stage each day on a voluntary basis. On one of the stages I was asked to play this role. I was quite happy to be asked. In fact, I felt quite honoured to air kiss the likes of Emanuele Negrini and Max Lelli, who were renowned cycle racers at the time! I had been a competitor at the same event and I was interviewed about my sporting activities on the stage. People complimented me on my riding (though I was not in contention), and for me I was happy with that. I did not feel in any way that my talents as a cyclist were being overlooked and I was just seen as a "podium girl."
I applaud the work of women's groups and others that campaign for women's rights and campaign against sexism, as well as equal pay. But who should be the moral judge on having or not having podium girls?
Why should certain folks decide that this is sexist? Some women are blessed with good looks and long legs and they would like to flaunt that, and they don't want some "do-gooders" to decide that what they are doing should be abolished. It's hardly as if being a podium girl were the equivalent of being sucked into an exploitative prostitution ring, or as if the podium girls are showing off their breasts when on the stage!
Podium girl activites are no worse than the models who hang around the stands during Formula 1 practice, cheerleaders at American football, or even the Pirelli calendar models. I haven't heard calls to ban those activities!
In fact, why not ban all instances where a beautiful woman is included in a promotional/marketing campaign!
I think there is something a bit simple and outdated about podium girls, in the same vein as bingo halls, fondu parties, women watching the Chippendales and Miss World beauty contests. There are plenty of folks who like those things but they don't have to be outlawed because I and a number of others don't find them to my taste. Just live and let live. Let these aspiring models get on with enjoying their moment during the podium protocol after a cycle race. It's hardly sitting on Hugh Hefner's lap - which would be a different story!
I think that we will have made a real step when a beautiful woman can show off her looks without it attracting comment or criticism - and she can be judged on the basis of her intelligence and character attributes, not simply because she is pretty.