Victim blaming and cycling

Overnight in the Giro d’Italia Daniele Colli of Nippo Vini Fantini was taken out by a camera-wielding spectator. Leaning over the barriers in the closing meters of the sprint finish, his lens clips Colli’s left arm. After the dust settles…well, lets just say you don’t want to be looking at pictures of it if you’re a little squeamish.
If this all sounds a little familiar, it is. Only two months earlier Loren Rowney was knocked off her bike. Again by a spectator – hanging over the barriers in the sprint finish. Only this time it was his hand. In an incident that looked less ‘carelessness’ than ‘malicious’ in nature.
Finally there is the tragic event from my local roads. Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, a 77 year old was struck and killed by a car in a hit-run incident that Police are treating as intentional.
What all these have in common is the stunning amount of victim blaming that’s occurring. In both racing incidents the call has been for riders to not sprint hard up against the barriers. Seemingly having a spectator causing you to crash and break bones is part of risk you take by operating in that space. At least as far as cycling is concerned. Imagine though if Marc Gasol (playing in the NBA playoffs with the Memphis Grizzlies) was to emerge with a fan-inflected injury after he tumbled in to the courtside crowd this week? The outrage would be immense. And certainly no one would be saying “hey Marc, that’s how it goes. Sorry, can’t expect to be kept safe”.
All the while this attitude disregards the fact that these athletes are the attraction. Disregards the fact the barriers are there to clearly delineate where fans stop and racing commences. Disregards that this is a professional pursuit, with riders fairly operating within the boundaries permitted to them in their workplace.
Sunday’s terrible incident was also met with those blaming the rider.
“He shouldn’t have been on a road that has so many trucks”. He was hit by a family sedan.
“There’s no shoulder on the road”. Cyclists have every right to take up some of the space in a lane.
“He wasn’t wearing hi-vis”. It was 2:30 PM in the afternoon.
The same was repeated in March when Alberto Paulon was also horrifically knocked off his bike by a driver opening their door in to him – sending him under a truck driving alongside. The clamour for the ways in which Alberto was seemingly in the wrong was stunning.
Two families have lost someone dear and yet here people are trying to say where the sadly deceased has failed.
And this is where cycling baffles me. In every other walk of life, victim blaming either makes you a bigot, sexist, racist or (and not mutually exclusive from those previous) downright wrong. The few who were senseless enough to try and suggest Masa Vukotic should not have been out walking alone were quickly (and quite rightly) shut down. Just like Masa had the right within modern society to be able to enjoy a peaceful and safe walk alone, cyclists too have the right to end their ride/race safely.
Only why the disconnect? Why is the former an accepted assumption – one a society wants to strictly enforce with tougher parole measures. Yet the latter met with indifference or downright hostility. Casual cyclists are somehow viewed as having a life of lesser value and racers part of a gladiatorial spectacle. With all being fair game.
This might seem like I’m trying to peach to the converted here, but some of those with the opinion of racers and proximity to the barriers are fans themselves. That both incidents were caused by the same type of fans, now victimising the racers, does not strike me as a coincidence.
However my point is this. Take a moment and consider where this victim blaming leads. Already there are those taking an absolutism approach – if every pinch point of every race cannot have additional barrier measures to keep the riders safe then why take any steps towards more safety measures at all. And this comes from within the sport. Don’t let attitudes like this perpetrate a culture where it becomes increasingly more acceptable to write off the value of any rider safety. As at the very least, they deserve the same degree of respect and protection we afford our own places of work and society.