I’ve been feeling very guilty about watching the Giro d’Italia this year. Grand tour cycling is the only sport I’ve ever loved, would happily pay to watch, anticipate with great excitement and even give up birthday celebrations for (my birthday is mid-Tour de France). We all know that cycling is not a very ‘moral’ sport – cycling and doping have gone hand-in-hand since the Tour was first held in 1903. Most people who are not fans can’t see past that, and most people who are fans live in a state of determined denial about it. But I’ve never had a real problem with it. It’s unfair to those who don’t or can’t dope, as are all the other sports that routinely dope, but equally, watching Lance Armstrong was joyous. It’s more of a problem to me that he was reputedly an arsehole and went mountain biking with George W. Bush.
No, my issue with the 2018 Giro is that it started in Israel, as a part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, while Palestinians just miles away were being gunned down for protesting the same anniversary. No-one in the sport has really talked about this (there have been a few mentions and a few boycotts by cycling journalists), no athletes have boycotted or been reported discussing the issue. BDS has called it ‘sport-washing’. Israel paid at least €10 million to host the race, and paid Chris Froome €2 million to participate. Fans have protested in many cities. The lack of discussion about the issue is one of the chilling aspects of it.
I am disturbed by this and feel awful watching the race even after it returned to Italy. So I started watching highlights of the Tour of California. And during that, I suddenly thought: hang on, who allows Israel to behave in the way it does? Largely the USA. So maybe I should boycott the Tour of California? Should athletes refuse to compete in the USA, with its history of training the torturers of the modern world, fighting proxy wars on every continent, launching open wars for regime change and revenge (don’t get me started right here about repression within the United States)? I live in a country that is certainly in the top ten of arms-exporting countries (some more recent estimates rank the UK as second largest arms exporter), happily selling arms to countries on its own ‘human rights watch list’ and to 39 of the 51 countries described as ‘not free’ by Freedom House. At the same time, crippling welfare and social care cuts have hastened the deaths or inspired the suicides of perhaps 120,000 people in this country, while the most wealthy got 30% richer in the two years after the ‘credit crunch’, and £55.5 bn richer since 2010. So I should not watch the Tour of Yorkshire, either.
The modern military-industrial complex has entered territory that Eisenhower could not have imagined. It’s a huge, huge business, estimated at 2.5% of world trade globally (which cannot account for illegal arms trading and is based on 2013 figures). Mercenaries are being employed at record levels, generating yet more revenue. War cannot stop, will not stop, while the fortunes to be made are so vast. And certainly, when an asset-stripping pirate like Trump can become president, while the worst excesses of the Conservative government’s ‘Austerity’ and ‘Hostile Environment’ policies cannot make the people of this country vote them out of office, I cannot see that war will stop: at least half of us seem to have ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ and blame other poor people for what’s wrong with the world, rather than our rulers and their business partners.
None of this is to, in any way, excuse or condone the violence of the Israeli state against Palestinian people. I despise violence as the lowest, laziest form of human interaction and believe that it will usually generate more violence (there may be times it’s the only option. That is a different case). The whole issue of Israel pins a large proportion of the region’s problems in place, and must be resolved before peace can come. Please do protest, campaign, boycott, publicise as much as you can for universal human rights, peace, freedom and compassion. But let us not devolve responsibility for the situation. Let us not hypocritically and unquestioningly continue to buy American and support American artists and sports teams and companies, or UK ones, or French, or Saudi, or Thai, or Turkish, to name but a few countries. Since I live in the UK and take part in its commercial and cultural life, I don’t know how to resolve this dilemma.
So I am disappointed in my beloved sport and some of my beloved competitors (not Froome, he has never been a favourite). But I am gonna watch my bike race and try to campaign more against the arms trade, and I hope that everyone finds their own way to face up to the rabbit hole of the global trade in violence and oppression. Answers on a postcard, please, if you find any.