Nacer Bouhanni, it has emerged, has been the recipient of a slew of disgusting, racist abuse in the aftermath of his sprinting incident at Cholet Pays de La Loire last weekend.
The Frenchman, who is of Algerian descent and a practising Muslim, said on Instagram:
"Hello to all the little jokers who have been having fun for a week writing to me personally or commenting on some cycling sites that I should go back to Africa, that I am a criminal, that I am a north African who needs to be interned and who constantly send me pig's heads!"
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There is little doubt that Bouhanni was in the wrong in his tangle with Jake Stewart, but there is absolutely none whatsoever that the abuse he has subsequently received is vile and unconscionable.
Bouhanni went on to add: "Know that I was born in France and that I will file a complaint because I've been putting up with this too long and held my silence, this time, I will not let go."
While the UCI was rapid in its response to the Cholet sprint incident, releasing a statement that "strongly condemned the dangerous conduct" of Bouhanni less than 24 hours afterwards, it has yet to say anything about the racist abuse the Frenchman revealed.
Arkea-Samsic were quick to back up their rider, saying: "Nacer Bouhanni has suffered violent attacks of a racist nature over the past week, mainly on social media. He has decided to take legal action and we offer him our full support."
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More concerned about refuse than racism?
Two things are clear about this incident. First, the UCI has not done enough, is possibly not equipped to do enough, to protect Bouhanni and condemn the abuse he has received. The UCI’s response should have been immediate and strident, as it has been to violations of the new rules around rubbish disposal. It seems absurd, grotesque even, that we would ask a governing body to be as vigilant about racism as it is about refuse – and yet that is where we are today.
The second is the uncomfortable but urgently-needed reminder that cycling still has an enormous problem with racism. There’s no doubt that the majority of cycling fans will see this abuse for what it is, pathetic and deplorable; however, it’s in much greater doubt whether the UCI will do anything about it.
There are, it must be remembered, still individuals involved in the sport either as riders or who have now moved into the director's car, who have been accused of using racial slurs against fellow professionals, with little to no censure of those actions. Is it any wonder these pathetic individuals creeping around in Bouhanni's direct messages think cycling is a receptive environment for their ugly little views? One must only look back as far as the Tour de France in 2020 for evidence of the sport’s feckless, lacklustre approach to combating racism. It was a gesture Bradley Wiggins described as “the worst show of solidarity I've ever seen.”
We’ve recently seen in football a greater movement toward pressuring social media networks to take the lead on the issue of racial abuse, with Frenchman-of-Antillean descent Thierry Henry leaving social media until ‘they’, the social networks, make it much harder for individuals to abuse athletes. If the UCI cannot or will not do more to protect riders and condemn racism, perhaps it is time for the sport’s most prominent active and former athletes to take the lead as Henry has?
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