The Roar
The Roar


Responsibility of the roaming billboard

BMC's Cadel Evans of Australia, negotiates a curve (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
25th March, 2013

As cycling presses into the second decade of the 21st century, the world is witnessing undoubtedly the lowest ever body fat-to-lean muscle mass ratios ever recorded for moving billboards.

Typically, billboards are rendered out of wood, plastics or other non-exotic fashions, they’re general immobile unless towed; billboards for the purpose of advertising haven’t ever been such compelling figures of ripped muscle, tan lines or fashion-conscious lengths of lycra varying between nations (note: Bradley Wiggins’ knicks now nearly cover his entire kneecap).

Never has such athletic prowess, finesse, and toughness ever given itself, so availably and readily, to the world as a roaming advertising banner, billboard, or artefact of modern advertising, as professional cyclists do today.

Cyclists are the billboards at the extreme end of the spectrum, not only physically, but pushing human limits enigmatically and emotionally as they well.

Is it okay though, to just be a billboard? Or does a billboard have the privilege of owning a social conscience too?

I question whether or not it is okay to support the ‘bad’ for society, for the ‘good’ of a sport.

At the end of the day, it bubbles down to what each of us consider as ‘bad’, and whether our greed will reign supreme.

So to preclude without further adieu: Do cyclists – being athletes of a somewhat financially challenged sport – have the right to question who provides sponsorship money, or not?

A certain mining giant in-and-around the cycling news and ‘real news’ at the moment, announced it has been leaking poisonous gasses, which are used to produce chemical fertilisers and various mining chemicals, into the air.


Said company also happens to be title sponsor for a large cycling team at the moment.

With many socially and culturally questionable tactics of big mining companies around the world (destroying beautiful landscapes, devastating local communities through micro-inflation and cultures of alcoholism and prostitution), one would consider it curious, yet expected, that such a company sponsoring a professional cycling team has the nerve to sub-consciously associate themselves with environmentally friendly practices (being cycling) and clean energy in general – save the planet stuff, regardless how large the paradox looms.

Nevertheless, said company has allowed such a PR mess of itself and so my thoughts were aroused.

This is a bad example though because many people won’t share my views that generally, big mining companies are fairly poisonous to society. Also it’s obvious we can’t live this way of life without the practice of mining.

How about though, if say, some cigarette company, or any big fast-food venture, decided to sponsor a cycling team? Should I be allowed to challenge that on moral grounds?

Why should I ride around, just for the sake of making dollars as a professional cyclist, to promote a company that essentially brings drastic health issues upon its customers; in some cases sickness and death?

Furthermore, on the topic of sponsor specificity, isn’t a bank also morally unjust on some grounds? Or a clothing manufacturer that may pursue profit through ‘sweatshop’ wages? What about sports sunglasses that cost a few dollars to make, and cost a few hundred to buy? Isn’t this greed and outrage?

These questions all have many angles of argumentative attack, it seems a matter of personal perspective.


So can beggars be choosers? I suppose it depends on how far left you’re willing to bend your social agenda.

How important is money? If having more money than what would be minimally needed for healthy and happy life is more important than potentially slowing the spread of worldwide malnutrition and illness, then you would say no.

But won’t these companies just advertise elsewhere if not here? Maybe, but cycling is a unique platform for companies worldwide. It provides an avenue at a fraction of the cost of Formula One and arguable annual aggregate exposure.

This is hugely hypocritical of me though. All cycling teams ride bikes and convince people to spend upwards of $10,000 on a piece of equipment and hundreds on other pieces of equipment, that may or may not help them potentially travel faster uphill in the Saturday morning social hills ride, and also allow them to ‘feel good’ when riding around.

Isn’t it possible that 10k could be better spent fighting disease, war or poverty? I am uncertain that ‘feeling good’ on a bicycle is of higher priority than somebody eating dinner tonight, or someone else not dying of malnutrition as a child, but these cases are extreme and I am not ready to denounce consumerism as the devil.

It could be argued that most companies willing to sponsor a team have immoral grounds in someplace or another.

As public figures, cyclists are required to be socially and morally conscious in action, but what lingers in danger is this beautiful sport’s ability to exist through the ascertainment of sponsors.

I am not here to say ‘no’ to cheese burgers and ‘yes’ to sweatshop labour rates only if they’re 5% within range (or any other excessively detailed irrelevance). I am no policy maker, I’m just trying to address public discourse about what is morally ‘okay’ to advertise is all.


As a lean, mean, advertising machine, try and choose, alongside those in your circles, to support morally positive and socially conscious sponsors, even if it’s to take a pay cut.

I know we need to eat, but if it’s a choice, take the rice over the keffir.