Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Politics of Sport - The Missing

By Shane Thomas

As the Tour de France rode to its conclusion at the Champs Elysee last Sunday, the twin headlines of Team Sky's moribund attempt to win a third successive tour, and Vincenzo Nibali finally achieving ultimate victory in France, dominated the world of cycling. But there was a subplot in the peleton that may have bypassed your attention - which is something of a metaphor for the problem at hand.
Ever heard of Kevin Reza? Don't worry, neither had most of us. However, while by no means one of the world's premier road cyclists, his presence - riding for Europcar - is a significant one.

While a utopia where one's race (or any other factor that leads to social division) would be incidental is a lovely idea, but the fact that there's a black rider at cycling's most prestigious event is one of palpable importance. If you think otherwise, then please, tell me, how many other black cyclists can you name?

You may need some time[1], so while you're figuring out that conundrum, I'll elucidate on why I evoked Reza. He was part of a near-firestorm as he was involved in an altercation with Orica-GreenEDGE rider, Michael Albasini. Initially it was thought that Albasini racially abused Reza, allegedly calling him a "sale negre"[2].

While it appears beyond doubt that harsh words were aimed towards Reza from Albasini, their content remains nebulous. Albasini has expressed regret for his actions, but has also stated that none of his words "were of racist content". At the time of writing, Reza has yet to comment.

Whether you decide to take Albasini at his word is up to you. The point of this post isn't to out the Swiss as a racist, nor is it to exonerate him. What caught my attention as much as the incident was the nature some of the reporting of said incident. Journalist Owen Slot wrote, "The Tour has had its issues... but this has never been one of them."

The "this" Slot refers to is racism. And yes, unlike in other sports, there's little documented evidence of racist abuse in cycling. But the problem with this assertion goes back to the assumption that racism only comes in the form of racist language.

When talking about the issue of race in football, I opined that many people (particularly white people) don't actually know what racism is. Because yes, if Albasini called Reza a "dirty negro", then that would be racist, but thinking that fully encapsulates racism is like thinking the letters A to G fully encapsulate the entire alphabet.

The problem with cycling is one that can be witnessed in sports like rowing, sailing, and tennis. Sports that inherently lock out those from a working-class background - a background that disproportionately affects people of colour.

There is an unintentional, but also abhorrent stench of white privilege in thinking that a sport doesn't have a racism problem, when its practitioners are nearly completely white. Until cycling (as well as other sports) tries to facilitate pathways for talent of all races, it can't try to claim any sort of moral high ground.

Maybe the recent furore around Albasini and Reza will encourage the UCI to look at the racial disparity in cycling. And if so, my response is, what took you so damn long?


In an extract from her new autobiography, Nicole Cooke speaks about the arguments behind the scenes leading into the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Cooke went on to win gold in the women's road race, but it seems that the atmosphere in sections of the British cycling team was far from harmonious.

Cooke was a cyclist never afraid to speak her mind, sometimes bringing her into conflict with coaching staff, and teammates.

Now this doesn't necessarily mean that Cooke is fully in the right. Her book can only put across one side of the story. However, when she speaks of her treatment by Shane Sutton, it brings to mind the difficulties Victoria Pendleton faced in the Great Britain camp, and you have to wonder what kind of culture existed - and maybe still exists - towards women in cycling.

This is a sport that has podium girls as a quotidian part of its milieu, but only this year gave a place for female cyclists to complete alongside the Tour de France. There's something seriously wrong when a woman like Marianne Vos isn't feted as one of the world's finest athletes.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Cooke, I hope she continues to speak out. Her autobiography promises to be a compelling read, which is fitting for a woman who was one of the most compelling British athletes of recent years.

[1] - And by "some time", I mean, "head to Google".

[2] - Even without Google translate, I think you can guess what that means in English.

The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available to download from, e-mail us at and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH

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