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Commentary: Pro cycling’s anti-racism message at the Tour de France didn’t go far enough

Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe believes the pro peloton's anti-racist gesture during the Tour de France needs to go further. Dr. Moncrieffe recommends launching an official anti-racism advisory group.

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Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, where his focus is on applying 20th-century Black-British history in the development of teaching curriculums. He is also a former elite cyclist, and his research has focused on Black cyclists in Great Britain. In today’s column, Dr. Moncrieffe reflects on the Tour de France peloton’s decision to write ‘NO TO RACISM’ on their COVID-19 masks at the start of stage 21 in Mantes-La-Jolie. 

Before the start of the 2020 Tour de France, I wrote in the academic online journal 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 to the international conversation on race and racism that erupted this year. For example, there was clear leadership and action from soccer, cricket, rugby, NBA basketball, and baseball. However, at the resumption of the 2020 UCI World Tour, with the Strade Bianche race on August 1, cycling showed no leadership or action.

France’s Republican ideal means ‘race’ as a concept simply does not exist. This denialism is why we did not see any esprit de corps from the Tour de France organizers with the worldwide anti-racism protesters. For the supposed 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 face masks. 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 by 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 out.

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?’ You can see the results below:

More respondents thought that the Tour de France riders actions represented a force for change than it did a farce. Image: Dr. Marlon Moncrieffe

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.

I see something vitality missing from this visual communication of diversity and inclusion’ in cycling given by the UCI on their website.

The dynamic action and leadership that the UCI should now take to show the necessary engagement with diversity and inclusion for its affiliated members would be to form an anti-racist advisory group. Not only could this help the UCI with producing better photographs than the one above on its website, but this group could also assist with bringing leadership and guidance to national bodies, WorldTour teams, and the cycling industry at large through anti-racist education.

For example, from a racing perspective, any incidents of racism reported could be investigated by this group. This group would also support UCI officials and commissaries in developing their respective skills with racial literacy. There is much a body such as this could offer the UCI and the world of cycling in general. An official anti-racism group could bring greater confidence to some western national bodies of cycling, who are still in the embryonic stages of change. Cycling athletes of all ethnicities will know that a group such as this is established to protect them from racial discrimination.

Change is happening, and it is good that some British cycling athletes are now using their platforms to challenge the racism that they see in the sport.

Recently, pro rider Elinor Barker cracked the glass, and pressed hard on the anti-racist alarm button. She and thousands of people on social media took offense to the superciliary racial ‘othering’ given by the sarcastic tweet of her former Australian Wiggle High5 teammate. 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.