Racism in Cycling: UCI needs to get ahead of the game

By John Thompson-Mills

If you go to the front page of the FIFA website, world football’s governing body, you’ll see a link called social responsibility.

Click on that and you’ll see a link for anti-racism which reads in part under Article 3:

Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

For more than a decade football has been running a very public campaign to eradicate racism from the pitches and the stands.

Generally, you’d say it’s been successful, with numerous players and associations punished by suspensions and fines. But not by any means is the fight over.

There’s little doubting though that FIFA has a well-developed strategies and rules in place to combat racism.

Could you say the same about cycling?

What happens if you visit the UCI website and look through their rules and regulations?

There is a brief mention under Article 3 of their Constitution:

The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of: Equality between all members and athletes, license holders and officials without racial, political, religious or other discrimination.

And there’s a passage in the UCI’s Code of Ethics that binds its members to the principles of non-discrimination for reasons including race.

Maybe all cyclists are members of the UCI, but I’m not sure.

Regardless, that’s about it.

There’s certainly no entire page or easily found segment on dealing with racial vilification. That said I’m happy to stand corrected.

It’s worth asking the question though, what would the UCI do if an allegation of racism was made and proved to be correct?

This almost happened today at the Tour de France after an incident during Tuesday’s Stage 16 from Carcasonne to Bagnere St Luchon.

As the break struggled to form during the hectic opening 90 minutes, tempers began to fray. It was something that Michael Rogers highlighted in his post-race media conference later that day. He’d become annoyed with a Europcar rider who was refusing to do any work to help establish the break.

Well Orica Orica-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini also had a problem, because the Europcar rider in question, Kevin Reza, was sitting on his wheel.

Albasini told Reza in pretty strong language to do his turn, but according to Europcar manager Jean Francois Bendeau, Reza, who is black, believed he’d been racially abused.

At the stage finish, Reza approached Albasini and asked him why he had used racist language. Reza then told his team management who in turn told the media and it became one of the day’s main talking points in the French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

We spoke with Michael Albasini before the start of today’s stage and he denied racially abusing Reza, but did to admit to there being a misunderstanding which he apologised for.

But he wouldn’t say exactly what he said because the words were “bad.”

“I used some words I maybe I shouldn’t, but none of them were racist in content.

“Everyone was full gas there was a strong headwind, it’s loud and I guess he misunderstand me so that’s what happened.

“I couldn’t understand all the trouble at the finish but I am far way from being a racist,” Albasini said in an impromptu media conference outside the team bus just before Stage 17 began.

“You know there are many languages spoken in the bunch, I’m not speaking English perfectly, I am speaking French but also not perfectly, so misunderstandings can happen.”

Albasini and Orica-GreenEDGE management met informally with Europcar bosses and Kevin Reza this morning at breakfast, and according to Albasini, he apologised, shook Reza’s hand and that was the end of it.

The ASO (who run the Tour de France) also ‘dropped by’ to find out what had happened, and according to OGE media manager Brian Nygaard, were happy with what they were told.

Meanwhile, both teams are standing by their riders and no further action looks likely, which is fine if Kevin Reza is genuinely satisfied.

Hypothetically, though what if Reza wants to take it further?

How would the UCI tackle it?

As mentioned previously, FIFA has very clear and public policies on racism. In 2011, former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight games and fined almost $100,000 for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during an English Premier League game.

Former England Captain John Terry was taken to court by another player Anton Ferdinand after claiming he was racially abused. Terry was cleared of the charge but was still fined and banned by the English Football Association.

It’s fair to say cycling doesn’t have problems like these. It’s also fair to say that cycling doesn’t have problems like these because there are very few black riders in the pro peloton.

But as the sport evolves and globalises this will change, and as it appears now, the UCI is going to need to be several steps ahead of the game.

Clearly aware of what happened, and how it could’ve mushroomed into a nasty incident, the ASO should brief the UCI on this and encourage them to start preparing for the day when a rider is racially vilified and decides to take it further.

Cycling has confronted, and continues to do so, serious issues like doping, but what is it doing about racism?

I’m not sure it’s clear because OGE team manager Shayne Bannan didn’t sound too convincing when we spoke to him this morning.

“We term it (racism), as bringing the sport into disrepute. So if there was that type of scenario we would seriously look at it (a sacking).”

This year we have a Chinese and a Japanese rider at the Tour de France and it’s only a matter of time before black riders increase their presence in the bunch too.

You may not think there’s any racism in the cycling now, especially compared to other sports, but that doesn’t mean the UCI should be relegating it to a minor status issue.

They need strong and bold policy in place and publicly available so that any rider are fully aware of any consequences before they think about opening their mouths.

If these policies have already been formulated then the public awareness campaign needs to start.

Wingspan Portfolio Advisors Blogspot