People have been asking me about my thoughts on that Colombian kit, the IDRD-Bogotá Humana-San Mateo-Solgar one from the Giro Toscana. I was a bit confused – I laughed, RTed it and talked about it online last week, filed under “fugly”, because I always have a softspot for terrible kits – like Footton-Servetto’s, or the ones with appalling colour clashes. I’ve had a couple of days cutting back my internet use, so it was a little bit of a shock to hear that this kit has gone viral. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are some bad choices there, and “looks ‘nude’ in photos in bad light” is never a good move, but the reaction has been a little bit extreme.
This afternoon, people started linking me to articles on it – like this one, on BBC Sport, which hilariously has protected us from the thought of genitalia with a modesty panel, which makes it seem so much worse than it really is. There are articles on the Guardian and apparently all the other big UK newspapers, and on websites like Jezebel and Buzzfeed, it’s been discussed on at least two national UK radio stations – and part of this interest is because of Brian Cookson, the head of the UCI, who tweeted this:
I want to look at this from a couple of different angles – if it is obscene; if it’s more obscene than men’s kits; is it sexist; and Cookson’s public intervention in comparison to other issues.
Firstly, is it actually obscene? BBC journalist (and all round good bloke) Alex Murray has had a proper look at the kit, and his conclusion is that this is a case of bad photo in bad light making a gold colour look “nude”, rather than a deliberate attempt to simulate nudity. Check out the photos in his post, and more photos of the kit in real life in the comments on this Road.cc article (big hat-tip to my good friend Ben Atkins for his tweets quoted in there) UPDATE! and in this tweet, in actual daylight. It seems like this is one of those design ideas like Footon Servetto’s 2010 kit, those men’s ITT skinsuits that look transparent, and Sky’s fishnet skinsuit where you just facepalm, and wonder “what were you thinking?”, and bring it out for a laugh in conversations forever. I’m on the side of “bad photo”, and “please change the design next year”, and given, as Alex says, the kit was designed by one of the riders herself, I can’t see this as a deliberate push to make riders appear naked.
Then there’s the question of how it compares to men’s kits. Some people questioned the extra thick padding on that Footon kit, but at least the ‘codpiece’ look is better than the perennial issue of white shorts. In my time as a cycling fan I’ve seen innumerable photos of blokes in white and red shorts where, how to put this, I can tell whether he’s been circumcised. When cycling fans joke about seeing photos of men’s teams lining up and they’re “telling the time”, or “communicating in semaphore”, it’s because it’s a common thing to see, and for me, personally, it’s TOO MUCH INFORMATION, and no, I’m not adding illustrations, google “white shorts” yourself! Some things, I don’t want to know about sports stars, which is why, when I run the world, white shorts will be thoroughly banned.
Now, I can joke about this, because I’m just a Daylight Deprived Internet Forum Person, wittering away in the small corner of the web, but when Brian Cookson, the head of the Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s governing body, says things like he has on twitter and quoted in articles, that’s problematic, especially now.
The ‘offending’ photo was taken at the Giro Toscana, which is always controversial. In 2012, the peloton neutralised the final stage and refused to race properly, as they said the race was dangerous – they’d complained about the traffic in the race in previous years, and nothing had improved. The UCI’s response was to give the race .HC status for 2013, the highest category of women’s stage races, and Toscana was the only race with that designation – and rather than work on the issue, the race actually got worse – and as a result, the majority of the peloton, including the top 7 riders in the General Classification, refused to race the final stage. You can read about that whole sorry story in my collection of articles on Podium Café.
One of the scandals about last year’s race was that UCI commissaires were in the race and let it continue, even though only the front group or riders were given protection, and any dropped groups or riders were racing in heavy traffic. Lots and lots of people asked the UCI for a statement on this – about the race in general, and their commissaires’ decisions, including why the commissaires sided with the race organiser against the riders and teams, and whether the eventual ‘winner’ would get her UCI points. I know, because I asked by email and on twitter, and I had conversations with journalists about how they’d asked. We were told there would be an investigation and a report – and no statement has ever been made, unless you count the fact the race got UCI accreditation again this year.
(Toscana was extreme, but it wasn’t the only dangerous race that stayed on the calendar. In last year’s Vuelta El Salvador a car ploughed into an entire Team Time Trial team (be careful clicking through if you, like me, don’t like graphic crash video) and this year Tone Hatteland Lima blogged that it was full of traffic again this year. I know teams complain about them, so why do they stay?)
Then, there are the issues facing women cyclists right now. I wrote about the allegations that Estado de Mexico-Faren riders hadn’t been paid their contracted wages, and had been mistreated by the team, and I’ve tweeted the UCI and Brian Cookson about this, and had no reply (I didn’t email this time, because the UCI have never answered any of my emails, ever, so after a couple of years, I moved to twitter, as sometimes they answer there). We haven’t even had a statement along the lines of “The UCI is aware of these allegations and is investigating the situation. We have a zero tolerance policy on riders not being paid, and are taking this very seriously” or something like that – and that’s the background that makes Cookson condemning a kit that it turns out isn’t even as bad as the first photo suggests, seem bizarre.
Before you start emailing me to tell me I’m wrong, I do know that it’s not just possible, but in most cases admirable to complain about and act on different issues at the same time. I’m not saying “Until the UCI have talked about Toscana, they can’t talk about other women’s issues” – but when Cookson doesn’t talk publicly about both issues relating to the sport now, and ongoing issues like, as Alex talks about, women’s minimum wages or structural changes people keep asking the UCI for, it seems a strange issue to choose to intervene on.
So is “Nudegate” (or as John Stevens described it,
#skinsuits-that-look-nude-in-bad-light-gate) sexist? I’d say yes, there are definite elements of paternalism going on here. Lycra is revealing, and women’s chamois pads (as in this kit) cover the genital area because showing everything is generally considered not a good look – except for when it’s seeing everything about men’s genitals. I’m not swooning with horror about white shorts – I would rather not see that, but I have never seen the UCI publicly reprimand a team over them. Why is the illusion of nudity so indecent? Especially given the fact it’s clear that the colour of the kit doesn’t match the skintones of at least half the riders, so we’re talking about the illusion of the colour (Caucasian) ‘nude’ rather than they actually look nude (and actually, given the variation in skin colour in Central and South America, I can totally see why the rider who designed the kit didn’t automatically think of it as “fleshtone”). Then, given the team have been wearing the kit all year, why is it only indecent now, in the final weeks of the season? The fact that BBC Sport had to censor something they knew was appropriate clothing is bizarre – they wouldn’t have a modesty panel over Footon’s kit, and that’s the same colour. It’s hard to see the OUTRAGE!!! as un-gendered, and that’s far more indecent to me than a kit that in some lights looks like it might look like nudity.
The season’s been a brilliant one, full of excitement, and the Worlds are going to be fabulous. It’s also shone spotlights on problems in the sport, like how teams treat riders, and continuing doping issues. The fact that the cycling story that goes viral and gets coverd by the mainstream media is “Colombian women’s flesh-coloured cycling kit ‘unacceptable’, says UCI” doesn’t make me despair about how far we have to go in how cycling is reported, but makes me determined to do everything I can to change that. Onwards!
Want to see *that* kit in a different light?
Parece q la ilumicación de la foto del uniforme del Eq. Bogotá q cirula es diferente, el tono original es dorado pic.twitter.com/mm6A5qPvWm
— Goga Ruiz-Sandoval (@BiciGoga) September 15, 2014
And there are more articles about this – including written and video interviews with Angie Rojas, in my follow-up to this.