Road Cycling, Strade Bianche 2021 and Gender Inequalities

As today it is International Women’s Day in this post I want to reflect on gender inequalities in road cycling, and more specifically on the 2021 edition of Strade Bianche. Could we learn something about this particular event in order to change this situation?

Historically road cycling has been plagued by gender inequalities in respect of prize money (a crowdfunding initiative was established for this year Strade Bianche – see Inside the Games), field size, routes or even events (ie a women’s Tour de France is yet to materialise) (see Cycling News for a discussion on reactions about Tokyo 2021 road cycling programme). With that in mind, and with the possibility of collecting data from both women’s and men’s race (both were taking place at the same day and finishing in the same square in Siena) I wanted to check if a similar phenomenon that I have identified in respect of analogue media (see my post here) could be seen in a new {digital} social media platform: Twitter.

As such, I have collected tweets that have used the official event’s hashtag (#stradebianche) between the start of the women’s race in the morning until the podium ceremony of the men’s race in the afternoon. Between those 7h I have collected tweets from over 5,500 users (nodes) who have mentioned/retweeted/quoted the official hashtag, creating over 17,500 edges. The visualisation result (see below) was done by using a layout algorithm (ForceAtlas2 with stronger gravity), and sizing nodes by their eigenvector centrality and colouring them by their authority (redder means more authority).

Social Network Analysis (Twitter) of Strade Bianche 2021 (Women’s and Men’s Races)

What is possible to see from this visualisation is that the redder (more authority) and bigger (more central) user was the official twitter handle of the event (Strade Bianche). Then we have a group of users around it with higher authority and centrality, some sparse users on the left hand side, and a possible cluster of users in the right hand side. The top 25 users with higher eigenvector centrality was composed by cycling events (Strade Bianche and Giro d’Italia), male riders (Matthieu van der Poel, Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, Tom Pidcock), traditional media (J Sports, Sporza, Sporza Koers), title sponsor (Eolo), male teams (Deceuninck–Quick-Step, Alpecin-Fenix, Ineos Grenadiers), new media (FaustoCoppi60, LeGruppetto), UCI partner (La Flamme Rouge), UCI Women’s World Tour, female riders (Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Elisa Longo-Borghini, Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig), women team (SD Worx) and a women and men’s team (Jumbo-Visma).

Even that the men’s winner Matthieu van der Poel (2nd) and the third place Egan Bernal (11th) were more central in this hashtag network than the women’s winner Chantal van de Broek-Blaak (12th) it is interesting to note how between the 25 top in eigenvector centrality we had a more balanced representation between male and female riders (5 each). Unfortunately the same cannot be said of teams, where there was just one women team in the list (16th), and one team with both men and women riders (17th). Nevertheless, it is interesting to note how the women’s UCI World Tour twitter handle (10th) did feature in the top 25 whilst the general twitter handle (UCI_Cycling) was only in the 313rd place.

In my view, what it is possible to see in this hashtag social network analysis reinforces the argument I have written in respect of traditional sport media and gender imbalances (see here), that when both women and men’s events take place at the same time and place there is a tendency for a better and more balanced representation.

What do you think? Is this a possible solution for reducing or even ending gender imbalance in sport media representation?

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