Before the start of the 2020 Tour de France, I wrote in The Conversation that it would be a huge surprise if we see any riders during the event taking the knee or raising their fists in solidarity with anti-racist Black Lives Matter protests across the world.
Some sports were listening. For example, there was clear leadership and action from football, cricket, rugby, basketball, and baseball. However, at the resumption of the 2020 UCI World Tour with the Strade Bianche race on 1st August, cycling showed no leadership or action.
France’s Republican ideal means ‘race’ as concept simply does not exist. This denialism is why we did not see any esprit de corps from the Tour de France organisers with the worldwide anti-racism protesters. For the country of Enlightenment and the cradle of human rights, this was disappointing.
Words such as ‘underwhelming’, ‘pathetic’, 'hopeless' and 'embarrassing’ were directed at those Tour de France riders who eventually bandied together at the beginning of the final stage (after three weeks of opportunity) with anti-racist statements scribbled on their COVID-19 facemasks. This was not an all-in demonstration. We did not see every Tour de France rider in solidarity with the anti-racism message. Still, the message given from some of the Tour de France riders was at least to let the world know that racism also exists in the cycling world, and this must be stamped on.
I have transformed some of the images of the Tour de France riders (see above) into artwork, hoping that their anti-racist messaging can become shared more widely for greater impact.
I recently invited the public to vote on the actions of the anti-racist Tour de France riders. I asked: Do you think they were an ‘Anti-Racism Force, or an ‘Anti-Racism Farce?’
The cycling community can build positively upon the results of this public response. Otherwise, the anti-racist message given by Tour de France riders may become forgotten and lost.
Cycling will remain in denial of racism, especially where western national federations and former world leaders of the sport continue to use the peripheral language of ‘diversity’. This is a diversion, and an avoidance to engage with the necessary voice and language of anti-racism that is required to protect the unstoppable interest and growth in the sport, especially from non-white people. If cycling is to transform, to even greater heights, through broader forms of ethnic diversity, it is anti-racist discourse and education for cycling fans which must be powerful and constant.
Something is vitality missing from the example given above by the UCI in their visual communications of diversity and inclusion in cycling.
The dynamic action and leadership that the UCI should now take for showing the necessary engagement with diversity and inclusion for its members would be to establish an Anti-Racist advisory group. Not only would this help the UCI with producing better photographs than the one above on its website, but this group would be able to also assist with bringing leadership and guidance to national bodies, World Tour Teams, and the Cycling Industry through experience, expertise, and anti-racist education. For example, from a racing perspective, any incident of racism reported could be investigated and resolved by this group. This group would also support UCI officials and commissaires in developing their skills with racial literacy. There is so much that an advisory group such as this could offer the UCI and the world of cycling in general. Cycling athletes of all ethnicities will know that a UCI anti-racism advisory group exists to protect them from racial discrimination, in support of diversity and inclusion in the sport.
It is good that some British cycling athletes are now using their platforms to challenge the racism that they see in the sport.
Recently, Elinor Barker cracked the glass, and pressed hard on the anti-racist alarm button. She and thousands of people on social media took offence to the superciliary racial ‘othering’ given by the sarcastic tweet of her former Australian Wiggle High5 team-mate. The tweet stated that the cause of the Australian's shattered car window (owned by her brother) was by the criminal hands of ‘our indigenous friends’. This racial arrogance comes from the inherited sense of white entitlement, and a complete blindness to how this position in life was obtained by the barbaric genocide and displacement of Aboriginal people in their own land, through British colonialism.
The ‘our indigenous friends’ tweet is an example of hidden racist attitudes that exist in the sport of cycling. These are the attitudes towards people that anti-racism action in cycling aims to wipe out.