No Medals? No Women at X Games! Nina Buitrago Explains the Boycott

If you follow any of the top ladies of the BMX world on social media - and I'm sure you do - chances are you caught that they've all joined together to speak out in favor of adding a women's class to the 2019 X Games. The women have been included in X Games for a number of years, but never in formal competition and never with the opportunity to take home one of those illustrious medals that so many of us have dreamed about one day clenching. According to BMX OG Nina Buitrago, the demo days are done and the ladies won't be returning until they get what they want.

It's an undeniable fact that the amount of progression women's BMX has experienced in the past few years is absolutely amazing. 

Whether it's the Olympics entering the sport (and the funding that some women receive along with that), the amount of time more women are spending on their bikes, or simply a whole bunch of ladies mixing positive attitudes with hard work, we're in a great place. The progression rate is insane, we're seeing more ladies on bikes than ever before, more brands are sponsoring female riders than ever before, and Nina feels it's time that the event that has been the epicenter of freestyle BMX for the last two decades joins in on the fun.

We caught up with Nina to get her perspective on what exactly is going on -

When was the first women’s demo in X Games and how did that come to fruition?

According to X Games, 2018 was the first official demo for women's BMX park. Everything before that - from 2014 to 2017 - were considered "practice sessions." Before then - since 2003 - a couple of us were out in LA at the Staples Center every year with no real credentials advocating on our own dime - volunteering to get girls in the crowd on bikes on demo ramps and trying to get people to sign our petition to be allowed to compete. I'm pretty sure we even got Mat Hoffman to sign it every year! 

Was there ever any discussion of women’s BMX being a medal event back then?

I've communicated that is what we want. Clearly they acknowledge it, but can only offer us whatever they can offer us each year. I agreed to continue the relationship if we could progress each year toward a medal event. This was the year they weren't able to offer any more than the previous and the women agreed that they are not risking themselves for another demo when they could be attending other events where they are welcomed to compete for medals and prize money as riders - as equals - like the Vans BMX Pro Cup.

 

Has X Games ever laid out a clear pathway for what the women could do to achieve this?

No. 

According to them, there are "so many factors - not just one" that effect the decisions coming from the top. Budgets getting cut, ratings to consider - it's always vague.

If progress has been so small for so many years, why is now the time everyone has decided to band together and boycott?

After so many years of trying to make it happen, hoping every year that next year is the year and nothing happens, it's been disheartening. Last year, Hannah Roberts declined her invitation to ride the demo at X Games but, unfortunately, that wasn't enough of a statement. This year, we've decided to stand with her and also decline our invitations. Together we stand stronger. We have been in touch with the women's skateboarders over the years. They have had a lot of struggles to get where they are and they took their protest to the New York Times when two-out-of-three of their events got cut after lobbying for equal pay. After two years, the mainstream media covered their park demos and were able to get X Games to add their park category back two weeks before the event. Anything is possible. I'm not giving up hope.

Based on the social media push, it doesn’t seem that there have been any positivity coming from these conversations with X Games. Is that accurate?

None of it is anything I want to hear. It's just confusing, I guess, because we want to be there, but only if we can compete as equals and not as a sideshow. It's nice they want to keep the relationship going, but they cannot spell out what else it is we need to demonstrate or do at this point.

How have the men competing in X Games reacted to this?

It seems like everyone is behind us and wants us to be able to compete as well. It's just getting harder to answer the "why?" when we are asked why we don't have a class yet. It also seems like a lot of riders aren't willing to give up their category for us - nor would we ask them to - seeing as BMX is hanging on to what representation it even has left at X Games and their budgets - that supposedly keep getting cut.

Have you received any support from women athletes competing in other X Games disciplines?  

Hell yeah! The women’s action sports community is strong! 

I’ve gotten comments and had conversations with numerous X Games and Olympic medalists like Jamie Anderson, Jolene Van Vugt, Ashley Fiolek, Tarah Gieger, and almost all of the women's skateboarders. Many, many more than I can name!

X Games is a huge event with a lot of moving parts. I could be wrong, but I feel like this movement would have been far more beneficial six months ago. Is there a particular reason it’s happening this close to the actual event?

I sent follow-up e-mails to try to keep the conversation going. ESPN folk are usually tied up with Winter X Games. I get out-of-office replies and have to play phone tag a bit to be able to get on a call. There's really no good time to protest but, as we get closer and we haven't budged their opinion with our attempts to share numbers of top women in BMX's social media reach, it just seems like we don't have much to lose. We might as well bring what's happening up to the surface and see if we can get our fans and peers behind us.

Based on the aforementioned moving parts, do you think it would even be possible to add in women’s BMX as a medal event in X Games 2019? That seems like a pretty big ask to happen in two weeks…

They did it for women’s skateboarding. Why couldn’t they do it for us?

Many have brought up the fact that there are multiple UCI / Olympic and Vans events for women. Is there a reason you still have a desire to be a part of X Games after they’ve driven you to this point?

Great question. I find myself asking that same question often and my response always lands on the connection to the bigger picture and future generation. Personally, I would still like to see women's BMX become a medal event - preferably sooner than later. Like, before I die would be awesome.

What do you want? I want details. Not just “Women’s BMX as a medal event.” When? Where? How many people? What course? All of the details!

I want to see the women's BMX park event fill the stands with a crowd, have an amazing contest, see some world's firsts, and deliver that energy. The magic we all feel from every event we have been a part of the last few years. I want twelve women minimum - with two alternates, equal media coverage, live coverage, prize money, and medals.

Have you heard anything back from the X Games crew since all of this took off?

No.

What’s your next move?

Most likely continue to put X Games on blast and let everyone know what’s happening while getting ready for next Vans BMX Pro Cup and then the points race for the Olympics!

What can the BMX community do to rally with the women in this quest?

Post your opinion about this topic. Say why you feel women's BMX should move up out of Demo-land and into its own official medal event. Tag X Games and your favorite mainstream sports media handle!

Any final thoughts? 

X Games - thanks for the opportunity to be involved over the years. It's been fun! BMX includes everyone - I'm grateful for that. We clearly don't need a television event to validate or include all of us, but it's what the women want and I'll stand up for that! If you support us, together we are stronger.

Nina Buitrago after the 2019 X Games Women's Demo


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