I was contacted by some black British cyclists and coaches, and they said to me:
"Would love to hear what you think about Sky Sports, British Cycling, et. al. boycotting social media."
"What are your thoughts on this?"
I thought it was good that the national cycling bodies have made these statements of anti-racist solidarity. Because, by using these words publicly, they can also be held to account publicly on their sincerity with advancing and protecting the growth of ethnic diversity and inclusion in the sport through the implementation of anti-racist policy and education.
Still, some of those black British cyclists and coaches shared their doubts about the statement, particularly in considering why anti-racist solidarity was not announced by the national cycling bodies during or in the immediate aftermath of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Why did they not at that time follow other national sports bodies such as the Football Association, Rugby Football Union, and the England and Wales Cricket Board?
It is never too late to reflect on this, and to commit to new learning. I think British Cycling, Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling offering a supportive statement of anti-racist solidarity is better than offering nothing.
However, the abstract statement ‘No room for racism’ in cycling needs to be reified as a concrete reality in action and practice. Participation and representation of British cyclists at all levels from grassroots to professionals should be advanced and celebrated through the multiple ethnicities of British people.
I often share examples of what I mean by this in my lectures. I did this most recently with the dominant white British Sheffield CTC cycling club members who invited me to discuss my ongoing research work ‘Made in Britain – Uncovering the Life History of Black-British Champions in Cycling’. In my presentations, I juxtapose the mono-ethnic representation of England senior men’s World Cup winning football team of 1966 against the multi-ethnic representation of the England U17 World cup winning team of 2017. The representational transformation of England's best footballers since 50 years ago is clear.
This is the same for the Great Britain Athletics team on the world and Olympic stage. How many black British athletes represented Great Britain at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico? One. That was Anita Neil. How many black British Track and Field athletes have represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games or World Athletics championships since Daley Thompson won his gold medal at the Moscow Olympics in 1980? We could name many: Linford Christie, Tessa Sanderson, Colin Jackson, Jessica Ennis, the list goes on. Again, the evolution from mono-ethnic white British representation to multi-ethnic British representation in Great Britain Track and Field Athletics on the world stage is obvious. We cannot say this for Great Britain's athlete representation in cycling at international level.
My research has offered clear evidence of how black British champion road and track cyclists particularly in their engagement with the national body British Cycling Federation (now British Cycling) have in general found their career potential stymied by national coaches.
Although Mark McKay is the only black British man to have every represented Great Britain at senior level in the World Road Race Championships in 1993,
there has never been a black British man to represent Great Britain on the Road or Track in any Olympic Games. Russell Williams is the only black British man to have represented Great Britain at senior level in the World Track Championships, in Austria, 1987 where he placed 6th in the points race.
I have shared on how Maurice Burton was overlooked for possible selection to represent Great Britain at the Montreal Olympic Games of 1976, and how Russell Williams was treated the same way in the lead up to selection for the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984. More on these testimonies will feature in my forthcoming book Desire Discrimination Determination – Black Champions in Cycling, to be published by Rapha Editions this summer.
Perhaps the selection and participation of Maurice and/or Russell for representing Great Britain on the world’s greatest sporting stage could have given a Daley Thompson 1980 and 1984 Gold medal story of inspiration. Maybe that would have inspired future generations of outstanding world leading black British Road and Track cyclists to emerge just like in Track and Field Athletics and in Football over the years.
British Cycling have now established an external Diversity and Inclusion steering group, tasked with contributing to the writing of actions plans in delivering on strategic aims. It will be interesting to see the impact (if any) of their proposed actions, whether the British Cycling executive board will implement these, and the extent to which any proposals made will actually filter through the British cycling system for transforming practice and ways of being in broadening multi-ethnic representation in British cycling culture.
For cultural change and for the sport to be seen as transformed, I believe that we need to see more black British people taking the lead and opportunity to become race commissaires, coaches, race organisers, cycling mechanics, administrators, members of British Cycling regional and national boards, and more. Where black British people and broader minority ethnic groups new in their engagements with the sport can see their faces reflected in these positions of leadership and driving innovation, this could make them feel that British cycling culture is a space where they can also belong to for making a valuable contribution.
Integration is a two-way process of consensus. The invitation for joining together must be triggered by one side. British Cycling, Welsh Cycling and Scottish Cycling appear to be reaching out, but they need to stretch their hands further to pull in the genuine experiences, knowledge and talent from a new body of ethnically diverse cyclists and cycling ambassadors. This will help to confirm integrity in the words given: ‘no room for racism’.