Tao Geoghegan Hart is a Londoner like me; socialised by the eclectic multicultural make-up that the people of the city brings. I also know some people from the Hackney cycling club that he originates from. This is a cycling team that over recent years has added a rich multicultural presence to national youth cycling races across the country. No doubt, Geoghegan Hart would have experienced and benefited from this multi-ethnic unity.
Perhaps it is a mix of this multicultural socialisation and the external influences that Geoghegan Hart cited in his recent social media posts i.e., Lewis Hamilton, Marcus Rashford which have led him to share in his gesture of taking the knee, albeit in an empty Hackney Marsh playing fields. There was not an accompanying raised fist to complete the performance (perhaps a step too far). Still this image of Geoghegan Hart was posted on Instagram and shared across social media. This has received a rapturous standing ovation from his fans online and the cycling media, seemingly without any hint of critical perspective.
Tao Geoghegan Hart became a Grand Tour winner only months after the Black Lives Matters anti-racist protests swept across the world in the summer of 2020. Surely the greater power to him in demonstrating anti-racist solidarity with this would have come on the podium in Milan following his Giro Victory. His hero Lewis Hamilton had been taking the knee and raising his fist all year at F1 events. Why not follow suit? The Giro platform was available for the possibility of an even greater opportunity to speak his beliefs in anti-racism during that moment in Milan.
Geoghegan Hart's Instagram message speaks to 'a problem with diversity and inclusivity' in cycling. The direct issue of 'racism' is absent from the social media message. If we look around the world to Africa, South America, Asia, etc. we can see that cycling does indeed have broad ethnic diverse participation in the sport. It is where the greater focus becomes the European epicentre i.e. the Classic races, The Grand Tours, and in the makeup of top professional teams and riders, whiteness reigns supreme, and always has. Whiteness is fuelled by racism.
Geoghegan Hart appears to have identified this, and with his knee-taking gesture he announced his donation of money to the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team ‘by sponsoring an under-23 rider to race with the team this summer’. All in an ‘effort to increase racial diversity’. For me, his more powerful language could have been 'as a start to dismantle the structures of racism in the sport'.
Maybe the intentions of this action are true, still whomever becomes the cyclist sponsored by Geoghegan Hart will be under scrutiny for understanding the project's impact. This action is a small drop in the ocean for a Grand Tour winner working for one of wealthiest World Tour teams. We must remember that same Team INEOS employ the rider Gianni Moscon widely known for his racist outburst towards Kévin Reza at the 2017 Tour of Romandie. This shame is not forgotten. Is Team INEOS working behind the scenes with Geoghegan Hart? Did Team INEOS know that Geoghegan Hart would be taking the knee in their team kit on the empty Hackney Marshes? Will we see these symbolic acts in association with anti-racism occuring in the workplace i.e., at race events throughout the year? Or is this simply a gestural superficial publicity stunt? Time will tell.
We are not sure how much money Geoghegan Hart will provide as funding to the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team rider. But let’s say this this was £50,000. How could that instead be used for investing richly into improving ethnic diversity and inclusion within the structures of British Cycling? Here is something for Geoghegan Hart to consider:
Why not call this investment The Tao Geoghegan Hart Ethnic Diversity Scholarship Fund? Split the £50,000 between developing aspirant young Black and Asian racers, along with opportunities in developing training for an increase in Black and Asian coaches and race commissaires. Building a more ethnically diverse and inclusive cycling world should not just be about seeing Black and Asian superhero cycling athletes racing their bikes around tracks, or up and down mountains. There needs to be more Black and Asian cycling enthusiasts in positions of leadership, organising and running the sport. I see that this would bring a wider and more improved potential legacy to Geoghegan Hart’s ambitions.
Greater care needs to be given in announcing a new sense of enlightenment with race consciousness. This has the power to offer emancipation in breaking the chain of systemic racism. However, accusations of white saviourism become easier to make, especially when gestures and actions are not thought through carefully, and especially without any consulting of experiences and knowledge of those people who have suffered most from racial oppression. Some of those people will see these white-led interventions taken from the moral-high ground as the furthering of offensive and patronising behaviour, especially where the narrative and applause becomes centered on the heroic quests of the white-actor, raised above the actual cause.
What is also clear by the social media noise coming from Geoghegan Hart's announcement is that any possible future actions given by well-known riders, and their teams in declaring their support of anti-racism for the protection of increased ethnic diversity and inclusion in cycling needs to be given a greater sense of thought by those doing the cheerleading and applauding, beyond the superficiality.