Chantal Blaak receives kisses from the podium boys at Gent-Wevelgem.

Opinion: podium boys are no better than podium girls

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Over the weekend, Belgium played host to yet another great Women’s WorldTour event. All races thus far have been exciting and Gent-Wevelgem was no exception. After world champion Lizzie Armitstead failed to get free from her 11 breakaway companions, her teammate Chantal Blaak countered and took off from the tiring lead group. She rode clear to the finish for an impressive solo win, her third this season and second in the Women’s WorldTour.

When it was time for the podium ceremony, second and third place finishers Lisa Brennauer and Lucinda Brand joined Blaak on stage as did two handsome men. Dressed ‘all American’ in jeans and a white t-shirt, these well-groomed podium men soon swooped in for the kiss.

“Yay!” Cheered women across the globe. “Podium boys instead of podium girls!”

I meanwhile uttered a mere “ugh”.

I know my opinion isn’t a popular one, and many women cyclists quite enjoy the kiss of a handsome podium boy, but in my opinion, podium boys are no better than podium girls.

Giro d'Italia 2011 - Partenza tredicesima tappa "Splimbergo-Grossglockner"
Podium girls at the Giro d’Italia. Photo by Cor Vos.

The use of podium girls is met with much disdain year in, year out. Collectively, women everywhere cry out that females are so much more than a pretty object to garnish the stage with. We criticize that the extent of images of women in cycling is reduced to dolled-up trophy holders. We dream of a world in which women are allowed to compete in the greatest cycling event, the Tour de France, instead of merely serving as podium “hostesses” on stage, ‘assisting’ the winner with his jersey before planting an innocent kiss on his cheek.

Yet we seem to forget all that when two handsome fellas walk on stage. The objectification is the same, even when the genders aren’t. We are still using human beings as pretty objects. To me, having male podium hosts at women’s events is not a gesture of inclusivity. If anything, women are being appeased and what’s worse, it’s furthering heteronormativity.

Why should race winners get kissed and share the spotlight with another person during their moment of glory at all. Tradition or not, podium hosts just need to go.

Gent-Wevelgem certainly isn’t the first to use podium boys, and surely won’t be the last. But can we all agree to not encourage this behaviour – this objectification of people?

Maybe, if we do have to use any flower and medal presenters, why not do what they do in tennis or soccer, and let the future generation of cyclists — kids — come forward and share the stage with their idols?

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