Tao Geoghegan Hart has reiterated his stance for more diversity and inclusivity in professional cycling, telling the Guardian he "deplores" racism and arguing that athletes should speak out on politics and social issues.
Before the start of his racing season, Geoghegan Hart was pictured on the Hackney Marshes in his native corner of East London, taking a knee in a gesture associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Last week, footballer Zlatan Ibrahmovic argued that sports people such as basketball player Lebron James should avoid politics and stick to what they’re "good at doing".
Geoghegan Hart doesn’t agree.
"If we don’t want opinions and characters in sport, let’s just watch robots compete," Geoghegan Hart told the Guardian.
"As a fan I don’t cheer for the best rider, runner or player. I back the one I relate most to, the one who inspires me. There is more to sport than simply athletic ability. And championing a positive cause, that you believe in, is a huge part of that, of trying to leave the world a better place than you found it."
The 25-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider suggested that "everything is political". He also revealed he is lobbying British Cycling on accessibility and diversity. He pushed back against Ibrahmovic’s suggestion.
"We have again seen the return of the narrative that politics does not belong in sport in the international press in the last days. I could not agree less," he said.
"First and foremost, everything is political. We are all in this together. Secondly, there are many who simply do not have the choice whether they are political or not, because these issues so directly impact their lives and the lives of their friends, families and loved ones.
"I deplore racism. I want the best for all people. Sport should be a reflection of talent, of diversity, of all the incredible characters out there in this world."
Geoghegan Hart became the first cyclist to take a knee and has continued to highlight the work of other politically-active athletes via his social media. He said he decided to speak out after spending much of his winter at home in multicultural East London.
He cited football player Marcus Rashford, who is fighting child hunger in Britain, and tennis legend Billie Jean King as inspirations to use his status in cycling to try and bring about positive change.
"I spoke to a lot of friends in Hackney about it. They asked why cycling had not displayed a clear message, as so many other sports had done. I didn’t really have a clear answer as to why, and the conversations made me look at our sport more critically, in the midst of the November lockdown and away from training and racing," he explained, concluding there was no excuse not to take a stance.
"I had wanted to do something throughout 2020, however after these conversations I decided I needed to do something. Even if I didn’t see myself as a leader within the sport, I realised that that didn’t matter. This is about cycling and the message the sport is sending to all those who follow it."
Kevin Reza, one of the few Black riders in the professional peloton, was amongst those who praised him for his actions.
"I believe in the power of the bicycle. Whether that be for transport, for physical health or for mental health," he said.
"The bike has connected me to so many and so much in my relatively short life. Somehow racing remains an extension of that humble bicycle, even amongst all the fancy carbon and jetting around the world for races. So, this sport should promote those values, those virtues. It should be seen as something that anyone could follow.
"I am and will be continuing to lobby British Cycling to change youth racing rules to reduce the financial ‘arms race’ and costs associated with kids’ racing. Even just small changes can have a huge impact. This is not an easy sport to access. We need to change that. We need those kids getting into cycling, to grow the sport from the bottom up."
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