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Cycling is too white

Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen (AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)
Expert
11th February, 2013
25
1236 Reads

In sports such as football, rugby, cricket, athletics, baseball and basketball, non-white (especially black but also, increasingly, Asian) players are prominent throughout, from grassroots to the very highest levels.

Even sports that traditionally had very poor track records with regards to accessibility for non-white participants, such as golf and tennis, have come a long way in recent years.

In the case of golf it was more a matter of one individual turning up and banging down the door, such was his excellence. In Tiger Woods, golf’s stuffy defenders of the fairways found a man they simply could not ignore.

However, since then (and very much to the sport’s credit) there has been an increase in non-white players, particularly Asian, at the top level.

Top level black players remain few but a precedent has been set, with Woods and the likes of Vijay Singh breaking the ‘white line’ to finally step into the clubhouses and onto the putting greens of the citadels of the sport.

Tennis has the Williams sisters and several male players of Asian and African descent, and had their first star in Arthur Ashe, one of the great gentlemen of the sport. Ashe became Wimbledon champion in 1975 after defeating Jimmy Connors and went on to become World No.1.

Undoubtedly, the great majority of those who broke the so-called ‘colour line’ in their respective sports endured great hardship, suffered terrible abuse and had to bear the burden of being held to represent an entire race of people, a burden that is, to say the least, unfair.

Non-white competitors still suffer abuse today in sports that have a long tradition of black and Asian players, such as soccer.

Racism is alive and well, make no bones about it, but these sports have opened their playing fields and their dressing rooms to non-white competitors, and in the cases of sports like football and rugby, as well as basketball, many of the top teams have worldwide scouting systems that look not only close to home but also to Asia and Africa.

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Throughout Europe and the USA, sports organisations, both local and national, have programs in place to encourage participation in sports in the inner city and other deprived areas, reaching out to youths of all creeds and race.

In several cases these organisations aren’t exactly working on an altruistic basis: they are more or less mining talent, looking for nuggets that they can polish for profit.

Nonetheless, and even though some of these sports could still improve, they are far more inclusive than cycling.

The closest comparison I can find in the world of sports to bike riding is swimming. In both, black people are conspicuously absent, as are North Africans and Middle Easterners, even though in cycling there is a tradition of South American riders, in swimming Asian participants.

Yet still, both sports are very white at the top level.

In the case of cycling, why so? The usual argument is that cycling is expensive. Yet it was a sport that emerged from the working class, the miners and farmers in the heart of Western Europe in the late 19th Century.

That argument also infers, however, that Asians and people of African descent don’t possess expendable income. While it’s certainly true that the majority of the world’s poor are not white, there’s still, in the example of the USA and the UK, a sizeable black and Asian group of medium income who do have the cash to spare.

The fact is the sport is not even attempting to appeal to these people. It’s as if the status quo has been accepted, it is what it is, and so be it. In that way it really is like golf.

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At the current time, it would take an exceptional talent like a Tiger Woods on wheels to get the sport’s administrators to reach out on a wider scale than they currently do.

It’s a massive case of short sightedness. Just like the UCI’s approach to female cyclists, so too the ignoring of the potential of the sport’s appeal not just in Asia (where the UCI at least smells money), but also in Africa, the Middle East and in the inner cities of Europe and North America, just smacks of stuffiness, of ignorance, and, most worryingly, of discrimination.

In my time in the peloton with the world’s top riders I’ve heard the word ‘nigger’ more than once, by guys that many look up to. I’ve seen a black guy almost pushed into a wall because the guy behind didn’t think he should be ahead of him.

I’ve heard white riders complain about conditions in Asia not in a general way but in a way that implied in no uncertain terms that they firmly believed in the superiority of their own culture.

This sport I love has the qualities to appeal to every race on the planet, yet at the moment it’s comfortable and accessible for one (Caucasian) and trying to squeeze cash out of another (Asian).

There’s currently one Africa-registered Pro Continental team but the fact remains that far too little is being done to broaden the appeal of the sport.

I can’t say I’m too proud of that.