Ask somebody on a UK high street to think of a Black-British female professional cyclist for the front cover of a cycling magazine, and if you were lucky, perhaps you’d get “Shanaze Reade.” Ask that same person to think of another Black-British female professional cyclist, and you’d really be pushing your luck. Still, maybe “Kadeena Cox” the Paralympian cycling athlete would come to mind. Ask for the name of a third Black-British female professional cyclist, and they would probably say something like “Look. Sorry. I’m in hurry. I really don’t know. Pass! That’s a question for Mastermind.”
Black women as professional racing cyclists in all disciplines of the sport are extremely rare species from grassroots to Elite and Professional level.
The Dominican born Dutch rider Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado has recently become a leading light as a Black woman in professional cycling. In Cyclo-Cross she has won numerous international events, Dutch, European and World Championships. But, Alvarado is very much an outlier in the sport.
The Fédération Française de Cyclisme are nurturing the promise of their 2019 World Junior Track Champion Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky, a superb talent of Ivorian heritage. She is unique. There is currently no-one else of a similar reflection to her ethnic identity at the heights of the World track cycling scene.
British Cycling have recently inducted onto their Olympic Junior Academy the London born - Scottish socialised Imani Perira-James, a young woman of Jamaican and Tanzanian heritage. I have watched Imani grow over the years racing on the National Youth Circuit and Track cycling scene. She deserved selection to the national academy. She is a champion, a very smart racer. She needs to be supported and protected. Dominant white cycling spaces are seldomly occupied by the black women. Why is this? Why are there so few Black women as professional cyclists on the world scene? What is going on?
These are some of the questions for which I have been collecting evidence in meaning making, as part of my original research project Made in Britain – uncovering the life-histories of Black-British Champions in Cycling. I have written this evidence into my forthcoming book entitled Desire Discrimination Determination -Black Champions in Cycling. This book offers an international and historical exploration and discussion on these questions, and many other related interests and queries.
I presented a sample of my broader research questions for an international conversation supported by Science in Sport.
Helping with making meaning were Danielle Khan, a double world junior track sprint champion and multiple national and European champion. She has English and Pakistani heritage and is from Solihull, in the West Midlands of England.
Next, Rhianna Parris-Smith, a rising star of track sprint. She has African-Caribbean heritage and is from the Home Counties of England.
Charlotte Cole-Hossain joined with us. She is a double British national champion of mixed ethnicity heritage including West African, Bangladeshi, Danish and Irish. She is from London.
Finally, we welcomed the 2019 world junior track sprint champion from France, Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky.
This was a unique gathering of Young Powerful Women in cycling.
How did they get into the sport? How were they supported? Has their minority-ethnic group heritage ever been targeted? What can we do to attract more young Black, Asian and Minority-Ethnic group girls to see cycling as a sport for them?
Here are a few key points of interest emerging from our discussion:
· They each lived close to space in their community where cycling was accessible and fun.
· In general, they felt welcomed by groups and clubs that they had joined.
· Race and ethnicity as a socially constructed difference was not at the forefront of their minds on entry to these cycling spaces.
· Reflections on critical incidents in engagements with other cyclists or cycling coaches presented some extremely ugly accounts in which each of them were made to speak to their minority ethnic differences to the White majority. Be it by the difference in their skin colour or an unwanted intrigue into their surnames.
· Racism in cycling can inflict a sense of being made to feel ‘hyper visible’ to the dominant white gaze; unwelcomed and ‘othered’ as the interloper
· Support from family, close friends, and club members enabled the riders to develop and pursue their love of cycling; to become rising stars; to show their excellence; to become outstanding champions.
· Voice and leadership through a greater amount of recognisable female cycling coaches and administrators in the sport could help to support the generation of more African and Asian heritage racing cyclists and future champions.
During and following the conversation, our audience expressed a sense of privilege in being part of this unique and rich discussion:
Thank you so much for organising such an insightful and inspiring event. We are excited to build on the trailblazing work these amazing young women are doing to make the cycling sector a more diverse and inclusive space – Lucy Giuliano (Spoke Out)
What Marie-Divine said about starting cycling thanks to a club in her culturally diverse area is telling. When kids start it needs to be accessible, on their doorstep. Facilities don’t need to be fancy. It’s about having a safe space to ride, somewhere to take the first steps. – Olivier N Julien (Velo Club de Londres)
What a great session and to hear from these incredible women about their experiences of cycling – Aneela McKenna (Diversity and Inclusion manager, Scottish Parliament)
Great to listen to the webinar – Advancing Anti-Racism in Cycling – Powerful Young Women. Danni Khan, Marie-Divine Kouamé, Rhianna Parris-Smith, Charlotte Cole-Hossain. Four really talented riders, role models & future leaders – Justin Grace (British Cycling Coach)
Danielle, Marie-Divine, Charlotte and Rhianna are unique role-models. They give fresh voices and fresh ways of seeing and being as young women in cycling.
Here are some of their reflections on the conversation:
I felt extremely honoured and privileged to have been given this opportunity to not only share my experiences in cycling thus far, but to also get the chance to virtually meet and chat alongside some other inspirational athletes, role models and champions in the sport of cycling! Going forwards if we can continue to keep pushing for more women role models, coaches, and ambassadors…it will help to reinforce and create an even greater awareness of how cycling is for everyone regardless of gender, race, or ability as well as how accessible it is with great pathways from grass roots through to elite level. As a result, hopefully attracting many more future champions!’ – Dannielle Khan
Being amongst champions was just an honour. Coming together with women of colour in the sport and discussing the topic was very rare and inspirational. It was great to share experiences and is something which I hope to see more of in the future!' – Rhianna Parris-Smith
It was really good and interesting to talk with other women of colour, the subject was really important, and we were all able to share our experience, thank you for that. – Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky
The conversation was an enlightening and somewhat emotional experience for me, it was such a pleasure to speak alongside three inspiring young women whose experiences in the sport echo my experience, and whose cycling careers I look forward to watching unfold. I hope that this (and other similar projects) can stimulate change in the sport, and we can encourage a more welcoming environment for anyone and everyone to get involved in our beautiful sport. – Charlotte Cole-Hossain