Cycling, society and women
For a while now, there has been talk about the manner in which Peter Sagan crosses the finish line but it was on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders where the Cannondale rider crossed a very different kind of line.
Runner-up to Fabian Cancellara, Sagan was standing on the podium in Oudenaarde when he grabbed the derrière of one of the podium girls planting a kiss on the cheeks of the winner. The move by the 23-year-old was crass to say the least, but it was just another example of disrespect being shown against women in cycling.
Ask yourself, on a day where the great Marianne Vos ticked off one of the few major races she had yet to add to her extensive palmares, why instead of celebrating another achievement by one of the most prolific athletes in the sport regardless of gender, we were again left to consider ways in which cycling sets women back and an industry that - at times - perpetuates a misogynistic attitude.
With the online community responding immediately to Sagan's act, he did apologise shortly after via his twitter account saying: "Was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it."
Alas! But Sagan is merely a young man, came responses in his defence. Alas! He is talented. To those of us who were incensed by Sagan, we were urged to have a search party sent out for our lost sense of humour. If Sagan saw it as a joke, why couldn't we?
I won't deny that Sagan is indeed talented but age should never be used in his defence. At age 23 the world is open to you. You can vote. It is assumed you have a reasonable grasp of right and wrong; you are an adult and Sagan as a professional cyclist of his calibre is exposed to a privileged lifestyle. His act on Sunday was idiotic, immature and was unfortunately another example that he is someone who seems to have an odd perception of what is appropriate, and what is not. If you're not sure what I am talking about, cast your mind back to his autograph signing at the Tour de France last year or track down the photos of him wearing that t-shirt while filling a car with petrol which have surfaced. What we also know is that Sagan cannot be singled out for this unsavoury behaviour towards women. And as for Yahueni Hutarovich spraying champagne in this podium girl's face...
Such incidents gave rise to another excuse which was perhaps even more disturbingly being used in Sagan's defence. Surely as a podium girl, the woman at the centre of the controversy, must expect to be objectified in such a manner, it was suggested repeatedly. Though it must be pointed out, at the time of writing, the feelings of said podium girl over the matter are not known however, it needs to be remembered that Sagan's actions represented an act of sexual harassment. She can be seen to be removing Sagan's hand quite clearly in video footage. The United Nations notes that among many things, sexual harassment includes "Unwanted deliberate touching, leaning over, cornering, or pinching".
To put it bluntly, suggesting that the podium girl is 'asking for it' is no different to when it is suggested that rape victims do the same in the way that they dress.
And there is nothing humorous to be found there.
There is of course, the debate over whether podium girls are at all necessary. Not for one second do I think that podium guys are the answer here. And nor are podium girls unique to cycling. Would Sagan or any other cyclist for that matter have been tempted to make the same move on a female local dignitary given they too, often pass on their congratulations at the end of a race?
If any positives can be taken from the sad events on the podium it's that the incident has created yet another prelude to a larger conversation as to the state of play for women not only in cycling, but in society at large. The Women's Tour of Flanders was not televised. Marianne Vos' achievements will not earn the mainstream exposure they deserve. But in the meantime, organisations such as Miss Representation and activists such as Destroy The Joint continue to fight for equality for women. Cycling is one small piece of a societal problem, but taking a stand is just the start of squaring the ledger. Equal pay may be some way off, but condemnation of Sagan's behaviour would be a welcome move in the right direction from the body which represents all cyclists, the UCI.
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