Watching cycling has been a dominant part of most of my life. Be it watching Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador battling it out at the Tour de France or Philippe Gilbert soloing to victory in Flanders. However, I have come to notice one thing, diversity seems to be all but non-existent.
In a sport which sees UCI races take place on each continent, it seems odd that somehow, we lack the ability to grow the sport for all. The severity of the problem is clear: in the world tour, there are currently four hundred and eighty-three riders on the books of world tour teams. Of these, just four are black.
That is less than one percent of all riders in the elite division of professional cycling. Realising this prompted me to investigate further into the issue, and once again, attempt to provide my personal recommendations as to how we can take steps to make cycling a more inclusive sport for all.
My first path was to try and identify the potential causes of this major divide as well as how it could possibly relate to other sports.
As anyone who cycles will know, bikes are not cheap. In fact, an entry level road bike will likely set you back around one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds. Compare this to football, where you may only need to buy a pair of cheap ten pound boots to get into the sport. It was this which reminded me of past memories: turning up on my Halford’s cyclo-cross bike at a race and seeing kids aged ten or so riding around on Pinarello bikes, whose front wheel was likely worth more than my entire bike. Thinking about this lead me to the idea that perhaps it was this economic factor playing a big role.
Bearing this in mind, I think it’s important to compare cycling to a sport with similar costings, such as American Football. As a comparison, a full set of American football kit would set someone back three hundred pounds, so a higher entry-level price than cycling. So, how can this be, that in the USA, where the poverty rate within the black community is almost triple that of the white, and the average black income is just seventy-two percent of the white, their major sports league of the NFL is sixty-eight percent black, even though it is more expensive to get in to than cycling?
Having played American football, albeit in the UK, the difference seemed pretty clear to me. Turning up at a cycling club without a bike, and being provided with a free one is simply rare, whereas, in football, you are not required to turn up with anything. Using this subsidisation from the sports governing bodies means that people of all backgrounds can turn up and unleash their full potential. This would, therefore, be a solution at the grassroots of the sport which could potentially revolutionise the look of the peloton in fifteen years time.
Similar to my previous article on gender, I have come up with different ways I feel we could improve the sport in this sense.
Firstly, I would simply propose that it should be the duty of each individual nation’s governing body for the sport to ensure funding for clubs is adequate to the point in which they may be able to afford to provide equipment for those who are disadvantaged financially. This would, therefore, allow for a greater increase in diversity in the sport, which is an all-around good thing as it pushes people to work harder and push boundaries further, creating a more exciting sport for all. Countering this, it does force these organisations to divert funding away from their elite programmes, which are where the money is made. Reviewing both sides of the argument, however, it is fairly clear that without grass-roots cycling, there would not be anyone for the elite programmes to use, so it would certainly be a worthwhile investment for an organisation. It is, of course, important at this point to highlight the good work which does occur among some cycling clubs, as multiple clubs, such as Cycling Club Hackney do in fact have programmes in place in order to help out those at a disadvantage.
A second proposal, which in many ways builds upon the first, is to make racing cheaper. This too would be of great benefit to people on low incomes as it gives them a more accessible racing environment. Again, the fall of this argument is funding, as races are expensive to run, hence why entry fees and race licenses can be so highly priced. Yet, it would surely be beneficial for a sponsor to be shown as the company helping to promote equality in the sport. Overall, it would be a promising idea to have the governing bodies subsidise racing, but I believe it is simply unlikely.
In conclusion, I believe we can simply suggest that in order to push cycling to the true limits of its potential, we must increase diversity in order to increase competition, and therefore it should be a large aim of organisations to do so, be it through these ideas or others.