RACIAL ABUSE REARS AGAIN
The racist abuse flung at Nacer Bouhanni following his clash with Jake Stewart in the final of Cholet- Pays de Loire is abhorrent. The tale is all too familiar in sport: a person of colour makes a mistake, or even just exists, and racists online feel emboldened to attack that person, because of the colour of their skin. It happens often in football, where black players are regularly exposed to vile abuse. It has not been as much of an issue in cycling because of the lack of riders from ethnic minority backgrounds (which is another kind of racism).
What is heartbreaking about the Bouhanni situation is that it isn’t the first time that he has faced racist vitriol, but in the past he has felt unable to speak up. This could be a reflection of cycling being such a white world. It might also show how attitudes to race in France still create a difficult atmosphere for people of colour. Bouhanni told L’Equipe: “It’s still taboo to talk about these things.”
Other sprinters have made mistakes. What is it about the French sprinter of Algerian heritage that marks him out for extra attention? He is always presented as wild, the other, in a way that other tempestuous riders are not.
There is something else in this story, which is an undercurrent of suspicion and disparagement that Anglo-Saxon and North European cycling has for its French counterpart. There is often judgement of French racers, French training methods, and French teams, which was commonplace during the Lance Armstrong era, but still exists now, even though as François Thomazeau points out in his feature [see page 66], some French teams are at the forefront of modernity. It was an easy shot for Stewart to call out Bouhanni, because there were people itching to dump on the Frenchman. The British rider admirably offered his support for his counterpart when it became clear he’d been racially abused. But the pile- on was a poor reflection on the sport.