Original article can be found here.
“Cycling is inherently expensive because it involves equipment and, generally, the better the equipment and the more expensive it is, the better you’re likely to perform,” O’Donnell explains to Guardian Australia.
“When I was racing the national team still existed and many women were given the opportunity to win a scholarship, as I was. But [realistically] it ends up being coffee money. You don’t have any expenses if you live in the national team house, [but] unless you’re like me and you can borrow, self-fund, quit your job and have either a supportive partner or no partner, it’s pretty hard to do.
“The added humiliation is, you see your male peers with all these pathways – and some aren’t making money and are being exploited [too]. But they can see Cadel Evans and Chris Froome in the distance and think ‘I could be that’.”
O’Donnell explains that cycling is effectively an individual sport that is raced as a team, with riders only able to enter races when they are aligned with a professional team. For women in particular – where resources are scant and places limited – O’Donnell says this can create an environment with “a whole lot of ordinary or unsafe standards”.
“It becomes an aspirational environment where the power imbalance is extremely apparent,” she says. “For every 200 women there are three or four great teams and women are just clamouring [for their spot]. That means the environment becomes ripe for exploitation. If you’re being poorly treated, you don’t have an alternative.”
As examples, O’Donnell recalls witnessing other riders subjected to abuse at the hands of their coaches and superiors, something she also endured during her time as a triathlete. In a chapter entitled #UsToo, O’Donnell describes a former triathlon coach as “violent, aggressive, manic, paranoid and suspicious” – and recalls being humiliated in front of other squad members about her weight, times and inferiority to other women in her squad.
“Mine certainly wasn’t a unique situation,” she says. “We have these vulnerable young women, or ambitious hard-working women, who have in many ways probably isolated themselves because they’re very talented, they’re exceptional, and someone has come along and said: ‘I see you. I see what you’re doing here, you’re amazing. We’re in this together and we’re going together to the Olympics or the world championships’. No girl is going to say: ‘I feel the power dynamic here is a little inappropriate, I’m not going to accept money, support, coaching and love from you’.”
During her time in the role she has already racked up a formidable list of achievements with a tenacity that mirrors her elite sporting career. These include securing a $1.5m investment from government in a “female friendly facilities” infrastructure grant, introducing a minimum 40% quota of women on state sporting organisation boards to take effect in the next 15 months and overseeing a professional development program for CEOs of eight sporting organisations – to support them in achieving gender equity. She is also passionate about welcoming women back into sport post-retirement, something she has thought about deeply after her pro-cycling career.