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Nacer Bouhanni: It's still taboo to talk about racism

Tour de la Provence 2020 5th Edition 1st stage Chateaurenard Saintes MariesdelaMer Stage 1 13022020 Nacer Bouhanni FRA Team Arkea Samsic photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2020
(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) has spoken in depth about the racist abuse he has received in the aftermath of his clash with Jake Stewart in the sprint at Cholet Pays de Loire, confirming that he will lodge a formal police complaint against those who have abused him on social media.

In an Instagram post on Monday, Bouhanni highlighted the racism to which he had been subjected over the previous week. In a lengthy interview with L’Équipe on Tuesday, he outlined how he had previously avoided talking publicly about racism even though he had been subjected to prejudice since he started cycling as a child.

“It's been going on for a while, but this is the last straw. I've been receiving hundreds of messages for eight days now. It’s becoming harassment, so I'm fed up. Since the sprint in Cholet, it's incessant. I've been in cycling for twenty-five years and since I was little, I've had to deal with things...” Bouhanni told L’Equipe.

“I always kept my mouth shut. I’m not someone who claims to be a victim. It’s still taboo to talk about these things. How can I explain it? If you talk about it too much, people will say that you’re playing the victim, but I’ve been suffering for twenty-five years. This is too much.”

The Arkéa-Samsic rider posted screenshots on Monday of abusive and racist messages he had received in English, Dutch and Spanish over the past week. The majority of the messages were posted publicly, and he questioned why nobody had seen fit to report them.

“I’m not the only one who sees what happens on social media. Why does nobody do anything when these kinds of vile people are constantly sending me messages like ‘pig’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘go back to your country, dirty North African’?” Bouhanni said.

“It’s like a scar that has reopened little by little over the past few days and that’s what hurts. I was born in France. I love my country. I was champion of France at 21 years of age. That was one of the most beautiful moments of my career, when I was on the podium with La Marseillaise playing. It’s sad to read all this, people wanting me to end up in jail.”

Bouhanni, who previously raced for FDJ and Cofidis, said that he had never experienced racist abuse in the peloton, but he was subjected to derogatory comments from parents of fellow competitors as a youth rider.

“In the peloton, directly at least, I’ve never been the victim of racism in any case. In the teams where I’ve been, I’ve never had problems. I say directly because, well, I’m not in people’s minds. But out of competition, of course I have received some [racist abuse],” said Bouhanni.

“It starts small on a small scale, but you hear some things, on the roadside, nasty things, from parents, and that's what hurts, because when something comes out of an adult's mouth, it makes a bigger impact. A child of 6 or 7 years old is carefree. You get over things quickly. But you never forget anything, you live with it.”

Bouhanni revealed that he had closed his Facebook account due to the volume of abuse he has received since he was relegated for deviating from his sprint at Cholet Pays de Loire, an incident the UCI has since referred to its disciplinary commission.

“If [the racist abuse] had only lasted two or three days and if it had only been 10 or 15 messages, which has happened to me before, I wouldn’t have said anything,” Bouhanni said. “But when your phone pings non-stop and you have friends who send you messages saying ‘look what I saw’… I even shut my Facebook account so I wouldn’t see the comments anymore. I told my friends to stop sending me those things, to send me positive things, because otherwise you’re just brooding on it.”

Bouhanni, who said he had “built a shell” to protect himself from prejudice through his career, confirmed that he would file a police complaint against those who have abused him online.

“Yes, I know people in the police, and I’m going to file a complaint against all the people who have posted serious racists insults,” said Bouhanni.

“I hope that justice will do something, because if not, that means that everybody can do whatever they want. As far as I’m concerned, I hope it’s going to free me of a weight I’ve been carrying for twenty-five years.”