If all goes as planned for British Bobsleigh, the group that fields Olympic teams in the sport, Britain will have three teams at next year’s Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. But none of them will be women’s squads.
On Wednesday, the organization, which also oversees the sport of skeleton, entirely pulled its funding for women’s bobsled after running out of money, the BBC reported.
“I was absolutely gutted,” Mica McNeill, Britain’s leading female bobsled driver, told the BBC. “I know that bobsled is an expensive sport, but I just am really disappointed that it has come to this. They tried to tell us it was because we weren’t medal potential but I said, ‘You’re funding three men’s crews!’ ”
It’s true that men have more opportunities to medal at the Olympics. The women compete on only two-person sleds, while men compete in both two- and four-man sleds. The insinuation that Britain’s men are somehow more talented than their female counterparts, however, is more dubious. Neither the men’s nor women’s team medaled in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and while Britain’s four-man bobsled finished fifth, its best two-man team finished 23rd. Meanwhile, the women’s two-person sled finished in 12th place.
McNeill, however, said it’s a false comparison to look at past results, because many of those athletes have now retired. McNeill, meanwhile, said she’s just coming up. At age 23, she and fellow athlete Mica Moore won gold at the World Junior Championship in January, after racking up three top 10 World Cup finishes the prior season.
On the men’s side, it remains unclear which teams will remain funded. Sochi’s 23rd-place men’s two-man squad members John Baines and Lamin Deen remain on the roster, as do four-man participants Bruce Tasker and Joel Fearon. Four-man sled driver John Jackson, however, and Stuart Benson have since retired.
While many of the male athletes remained silent as the controversy unfolded, Deen showed support for his female counterparts on social media, retweeting a crowdsourcing campaign initiated by McNeill this week.
“I have worked incredibly hard and made many sacrifices,” McNeill wrote on the GoFundMe campaign. ” I have even bought my own bobsled so that I can achieve my dreams and due to circumstances out of my control, I’m now looking to raise the £30,000 (roughly $40,000) so Team McNeill can represent GB this winter.”
The money, McNeill said, will go toward funding the upcoming bobsled season that kicks off in November and will determine which countries may field bobsled teams.
How exactly British Bobsleigh ran out of money is unclear, although McNeill blames “mismanagement.”
This season’s British Bobsleigh budget was cut this summer by more than $65,000 in response to allegations of a “toxic atmosphere” within the sport. The complaints, according to a June BBC article, included allegations of bullying, racism, sexism and discrimination.
“Bobsleigh will see a minor reduction and the implementation of an agreed culture action plan will be a condition of award,” said UK Sport, which manages the budgets of British Olympic and Paralympic organization, noting the budget this season would total about $6.75 million.
“It has been difficult for all the athletes,” McNeill told the BBC of the situation.
Reaction on social media to the organization’s troubles have been most sympathetic to its female bobsledders, however.
British Bobsleigh did not immediately return a request to comment.