Cycling slow to face up to be­ing ‘pos­si­bly the whitest sport on Earth’

> While Tour de France chiefs ig­nore the Black Lives Mat­ter protests, a group of BAME rid­ers are mak­ing their mark

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Cary

Of the 176 rid­ers who will start the Tour de France in Nice to­mor­row, as­sum­ing it does not fall vic­tim to Covid-19 by then, just one will be black. Mer­hawi Kudus, a 26-year-old from Eritrea, has been se­lected in As­tana’s eight-man team.

The odds of any other black rid­ers join­ing him were not great. There are only five black rid­ers in to­tal com­pet­ing on the World Tour, the high­est rung of pro­fes­sional cycling. And that lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion is re­flected right the way down through cycling’s pyra­mid. Aye­sha McGowan, an Amer­i­can pro rider and ac­tivist, pon­dered in these pages a few weeks ago whether pro­fes­sional road cycling might be the “whitest” sport on Earth.

Cycling has been slow to ad­dress this his­toric is­sue, and com­pletely cloth-eared in terms of its re­sponse to the global Black Lives Mat­ter protests which are re­ver­ber­at­ing louder than ever in the wake of the shoot­ing of Ja­cob Blake in Wis­con­sin on Sun­day.

While US sports are busy post­pon­ing games and boy­cotting events, and Euro­pean ones such as foot­ball, rugby and Formula One are at the very least pledg­ing their sup­port for anti-racism, cycling’s si­lence has been deaf­en­ing.

ASO, the Tour’s or­gan­iser, did not re­spond to this news­pa­per when asked whether the race would ac­knowl­edge anti-racism in any way at the Grand Depart to­mor­row, when the eyes of the world are upon the sport.

The UCI, cycling’s gov­ern­ing body, has seem­ingly not put it un­der any pres­sure to do so. In a piece for The Con­ver­sa­tion, Dr Mar­lon Mon­crieffe, a for­mer rider turned aca­demic who has car­ried out ex­ten­sive re­search into the ex­pe­ri­ences of black Bri­tish ath­letes, said it would be “a huge sur­prise” if we saw any rid­ers “tak­ing the knee or rais­ing their fists in sol­i­dar­ity” at cycling’s big­gest race.

It begs the ques­tion: how will this change? And who will change it, if not the sport’s most pow­er­ful stake­hold­ers?

Mani Arthur is try­ing to ef­fect change from the bot­tom up. A Bri­tish-Ghana­ian club rider and civil ser­vant, Arthur founded the Black Cy­clists Net­work (BCN) in 2018 with the aim of in­creas­ing di­ver­sity and rais­ing the pro­file of the sport within the black, Asian and mi­nor­ity eth­nic com­mu­nity. It grew slowly at first; BCN’s Satur­day morn­ing group rides in Re­gent’s Park at­tract­ing a reg­u­lar crew of like-minded souls. But in­ter­est, Arthur says, has ex­ploded since May.

“Whereas be­fore we had 20odd peo­ple turn­ing up for our rides, now we’ve got 80-plus turn­ing up on a Satur­day morn­ing at 8am,” he says. “I think what we’ve demon­strated is there is a mas­sive in­ter­est in cycling within the BAME com­mu­nity.

“I mean, last year we were all com­plain­ing about Ride London Pho­to­shop­ping a black woman on to a pro­mo­tional pic­ture. Ear­lier this month we had over 1,500 peo­ple, in­clud­ing God knows how many black women and chil­dren, turn up to ride from Waltham­stow to Brix­ton for the Black Unity Bike Ride. It just goes to show that we are out there.”

Arthur has am­bi­tious plans to grow BCN. As well as open­ing up “chap­ters across the coun­try”, con­nect­ing with other BAME groups, and start­ing a foun­da­tion, he is in the process of set­ting up Bri­tain’s first do­mes­tic team for BAME rid­ers. It is cur­rently made up of just nine rid­ers: one elite, four cat­e­gory two and four cat­e­gory three. But Arthur hopes it will reach Pro-Continenta­l level in time. Al­ready one big-name spon­sor, sports nu­tri­tion com­pany SIS, has come on board, while a fur­ther £18,000 has been raised via a GoFundMe cam­paign.

Such sup­port can make a big dif­fer­ence in a sport where cul­tural bar­ri­ers (Arthur was the vic­tim of racial pro­fil­ing last year, sub­jected to a “hu­mil­i­at­ing” stop and search in cen­tral London) are re­in­forced by so­cio-eco­nomic ones.

“Cycling is not like foot­ball,” Arthur says. “You need parental in­vest­ment, you need money, time. If you live in an in­ner city, and you want to do road races, you have to get up early; you have to have a car; you have to have an ex­pen­sive bike, spare parts… “That’s why there needs to be an ex­tra level of push to get BAME rid­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing. If I go to a road race, I will be the only black rider there. And that’s not be­cause we’ve been ac­tively shut out, but in a way we have been. The gov­ern­ing body needs to do more, to spot young tal­ented rid­ers and give them those op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Richard Lis­ton, who helped to set up Ride­Fest, an­other Lon­don­based BAME cycling group, agrees Bri­tish Cycling could do more. “At the club I coach in Or­p­ing­ton [GS Avanti] we have prob­a­bly 30 ju­niors on our books and they’re all white,” he says. “But you look at the bor­ough and that’s just not rep­re­sen­ta­tive.”

Lis­ton cites the lack of di­ver­sity within Bri­tish Cycling as an is­sue. Last year the gov­ern­ing body sup­ported the pub­li­ca­tion of the DiverBy sity in Cycling re­port, a grass-roots pro­ject au­thored by a white rider, Andy Ed­wards, who de­cided to can­vas the views of BAME rid­ers about their ex­pe­ri­ences in cycling.

The re­port was well-in­ten­tioned and con­tained plenty of use­ful ad­vice aimed at im­prov­ing di­ver­sity and mak­ing a some­times ex­clu­sive (read snob­bish) sport more wel­com­ing. Mon­crieffe ac­cused the gov­ern­ing body of us­ing the re­port as win­dow-dress­ing, de­scrib­ing it as a “white­wash”.

Lis­ton says there is no doubt Bri­tish Cycling’s re­sponse to the is­sue has been weak. “That re­port came out a year ago, but they didn’t know what to do with it,” he says. “They

didn’t have the cor­rect per­son­nel within the or­gan­i­sa­tion to do some­thing sen­si­ble with it. I only know of one black per­son within BC.

“I don’t know how many thou­sands of peo­ple ride their bikes to work ev­ery day and they don’t have a clue what the re­la­tion­ship is be­tween them and Bri­tish Cycling, who are sup­posed to rep­re­sent Bri­tish cycling and not the Bri­tish Olympic team.”

Asked for com­ment, a Bri­tish Cycling spokesper­son said that im­prov­ing di­ver­sity had been “a clear pri­or­ity for Bri­tish Cycling for many years”, al­though he added there was still “a great deal to do”.

“We recog­nise that a lack of di­verse eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem and a his­tor­i­cal legacy that those of us who love cycling must tackle if we want to say with cred­i­bil­ity that ours is a sport open to all.”

Arthur will be watch­ing events in Nice to­mor­row as a fan. He says he will not be an­gry or an­noyed to see so few black rid­ers. “Be­cause that’s how cycling has al­ways been. I knew when I en­tered cycling I was en­ter­ing a white sport. I try to look at it from a pos­i­tive an­gle. For me it’s like, ‘What can I do to change things?’”

It is high time the sport asked it­self that ques­tion.

Lone star: Mer­hawi Kudus, of Eritrea, (left) will be the only black rider in this year’s Tour de France, with Mani Arthur (be­low left) show­ing the sport can be mul­ti­cul­tural in his Black Cy­clists Net­work

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