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For Women, It's Nearly Ex Games

They now have only two events, but it's open for discussion

August 03, 2006|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Fabiola da Silva is the leading female medal-winner in X Games history, a seven-time in-line skating gold medalist, but she won't even be in California when the games are contested today through Sunday at Staples Center and the Home Depot Center.

Dallas Friday won her fourth gold medal in wakeboarding last year, then talked about catching BMX rider Dave Mirra, who leads all X Games contestants with 14 gold medals.

But Friday's dream will remain in dry dock because wakeboarding was eliminated from the X Games lineup this year for budgetary concerns -- it has cost more than $500,000 to stage the event in the Long Beach Marine Stadium.

And women's in-line skating was dropped two years ago after organizers said the sport was no longer popular enough to be included.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 79 words Type of Material: Correction
X Games: In some editions of Thursday's Sports section, the front-page caption under the photograph of in-line skater Fabiola da Silva incorrectly identified her as Cara Beth Burnside. In other editions, Da Silva was correctly identified but the caption incorrectly said that she was the defending champion in the skateboard vert; Da Silva is a seven-time in-line skating gold medalist. Also, an article on the games' target audience incorrectly referred to BMX rider Kevin Robinson as a skateboard rider.

Da Silva and Friday aren't the only women who have had their sports cut from the X Games in recent years. When the games debuted in 1995, six of 29 events were specifically designed for women and another, the Eco Challenge, paired a man and woman. Of this year's 16 events, there are only two -- skateboard vert and skateboard street -- for women.

It's a disturbing enough trend that the Women's Sports Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing women's sports, has become involved.

And it's enough of a concern that female skateboarders, in part because they fear for their future at the X Games, have formed the Action Sports Alliance in an effort to gain more exposure for women's action sports.

"I really don't understand why they don't have more women's sports at the X Games," Da Silva said. "It's really a bummer. They have the opportunity to help women, but it seems like they just keep cutting us off."

ESPN, owner of the X Games, is not ignoring the issue. John Skipper, the network's executive vice president of content, met with leaders of the Action Sports Alliance on Wednesday evening to discuss larger prize purses and more television exposure for women's action sports, among other issues.

"We're committed to having women at the X Games in a meaningful way," Skipper said. "By no means do we have a gender-driven agenda here. I think we just hit a little bit of a blip, but it is our intention to have more events with women in the coming years."

Cara Beth Burnside can only hope. The leader of the Action Sports Alliance and the defending X Games gold medalist in the skateboard vert, Burnside had been waiting more than a year to have a sit-down meeting with ESPN executives.

Last year, the alliance threatened a boycott of the vert event because their complaints about low prize money -- women earned $2,000 for first place while men earned $50,000 -- were largely ignored.

The boycott was called off at the 11th hour when ESPN executives agreed to meet with Burnside and other alliance members. She said Wednesday that the wait was worth it, though she had agreed with Skipper not to discuss any details about the changes.

The parties are scheduled to meet again today.

"The meeting was very positive for the future of skateboarding and other women's action sports," Burnside said. "There will be some changes for this year and some major changes for next year." Major issues for the alliance were increased prize money and television air time for women's events.

Before Wednesday's meeting, ESPN had raised the total prize money in women's skateboarding to $28,000 -- with a first-place prize of $5,000 -- but that's still paltry when compared with the men's $225,000 total purse.

"We're not asking for what the guys are getting," said Burnside, 39. "But $5,000 for being the best in the world doesn't seem fair. It's good money for a teenager, but a lot of us are out here trying to make a living."

More important than the money, Burnside said, is the exposure. Women's action sports could grow rapidly, she said, if they were shown on ESPN during the X Games, but before Wednesday's meeting there were no plans to televise any of the women's events this year. Details of TV coverage could be worked out today.

The added exposure also helps attract sponsors and keep them happy, something Burnside said is vital to the survival of her sport because sponsors help pay travel costs and contest entry fees.

"We just want a validation for our sport," Burnside said. "A little coverage on ESPN -- maybe a 10-minute highlight package and some interviews -- could go a long way toward growing the sport."

Drew Mearns, a Virginia lawyer who helped organize the Action Sports Alliance and attended the meeting Wednesday with Burnside and Skipper, said he is confident that the major issues would be resolved.

"It's clear that ESPN is going to make a commitment to do the right thing," he said. "The proof will be in the action, but it's clear that both are going in the right direction."

ESPN isn't the only one missing the boat with women. The Dew Action Sports Tour does not have any events for women and the LG Action Sports World Tour has women's in-line skating only at its European stops.

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