This just appeared on my Timeline this morning:
It’s an article on the supposed ‘sportswashing’ that Saudi Arabia is involved in with next year’s inaugural Saudi Tour – as we all know, a country steeped in cycling tradition and history.
But that’s not the point. The point is that countries with questionable human rights records (and who have plenty of money) are seen to be using sporting events to whitewash their wicked ways. RCS Sport took a lot a flak over Israel hosting the Giro d’Italia this year, to give a recent example
I’m not sure that I have a strong opinion on this one, although I can’t imagine a worse country to put a happy face on than Saudi Arabia. They will certainly have to halt all public beheadings while the Tour is on, at the very least. I do get the financial part of this, of course.
No country is safe from legitimate criticism, however, and if you draw the line at Saudi Arabia it might be a slippery slope to many others.
My view is that it’s just dumb to hold cycling races in places where the locals have absolutely no interest in the sport (Doha and the Athletics Worlds this year might be a good example of this), not to mention basically no TV appeal to the normal cycling audience. It’s about money for one side and public relations for the other. Stuck in the middle are the riders and fans.
Postscript: I do love my irony, and the fact that there is a new pro tour in Saudi Arabia while the Tour of California (where there are definitely fans of the sport) ‘takes a break’ in the same year should not be lost on us.