This week Cyclingnews published a really important piece of journalism, that all cycling fans need to read or listen to. It’s not an easy story to engage with, because it’s the last thing people want to think happens in a sport they love, but it’s so important we pay attention, so we can all help recognise it and work to prevent it, as fans, media, and people involved in all cycling at all levels.
Genèvieve Jeanson, in case you don’t know, was the 1999 Canadian World Junior Road Race and Time Trial Champion whose elite career came to a halt in 2005, after EPO was found in a blood test. Jeanson later said that she’d been taking EPO since she was 16 years old, but the worst part of her story was the allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse she made against her coach, André Aubut, who, along with Maurice Duquette, the doctor who gave her the drugs, was banned from being involved in sports for life by the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport. It’s a really harrowing story, and Jeanson isn’t the only cyclist whose story includes nasty abuse – USA rider Tammy Thomas is another rider who says her doping was entwined with being abused, and ex-Cycling Australia official Warwick Phillips was stabbed by a rider he was convicted of sexually abusing when he was coaching her as a teenager. And of course, earlier this year the CIRC report into doping in road cycling very briefly referred to women being exploited sexually and financially in the sport, while Ukrainian rider Hanna Solovey, who was caught doping at age 19, has talked about the continual verbal abuse that kept her scared of him (original Russian, and translation on Velorooms).
Jeanson’s story has been told in a French-language book by Alain Gravel, L’affaire Jeanson : l’engrenage, and a film, La Petite Reine inspired by her life, but there hasn’t been an English-language interview with her since the original doping story broke, until now, when journalist Kirsten Frattini met Jeanson at the 2015 Road World Championships, and interviewed her for the Cyclingnews podcast. You can listen to that interview here, and for people who don’t do podcasts, there’s an article below it, that not only goes into detail about Jeanson’s story, but also talks to other people involved in the sport who talk about what they saw of the public aspects. They’ve also published some of the follow-up questions Frattini had after the podcast interview, and that is great journalism. I genuinely think this is the most important cycling story that’s been published this year.
The thing that I think upset me most about this story was all the people who were corroborating the physical and emotional abuse. I can make guesses that maybe some of the young riders just didn’t know what to do about it – especially as some of this abuse seems so public, race officials and other responsible adults involved in cycling must have seen it too, and didn’t stop it – so I just have to take my hat off to Frattani for including a list of resources at the end of her article, where people can get help on issues of violence, abuse and doping. They’re Canadian-based, as Jeanson and Frattani are, so I’ve added a list of UK resources at the bottom of this article too.
What we can all do to prevent this kind of awful story happening in the future is to be aware of the issues (and recognise that while these public stories are about girls and women, abuse also happens to boys and men) and if we’re worried about anyone in our lives, take action. There are some excellent organisations providing help, and there’s never any harm done in asking “Is this ok?” and “Is this something I should act on?”. We should see what our Cycling Federations have to say about child protection, and if we’re not satisfied, ask them to do more – and the big Federations and anti-doping agencies need to be mindful that sometimes doping and abuse are entwined, so that they can recognise that doping might be part of a bigger problem, and provide support, especially to young and vulnerable athletes. Abuse, including blackmail and threats about doping, is never ok, and doesn’t belong in our sport.
- What to do if you’re worried a child or young adult is at risk of, sexual abuse – resources for children and young people (Childline) and for adults (NSPCC)
- This is Abuse website – aimed at young people, but useful for everyone to help identify abuse, and find support
- Childline – 24 hour counselling and support for children and young people
- The NSPCC’s Child Protection In Sport site, which includes ways to raise sports-specific concerns, as well as support for organisations and clubs around prevention
- British Cycling’s Safeguarding policies, including a link for reporting concerns, and their Equality Policy, which includes harassment.
- The NHS guide to getting help for domestic (& partner) violence and how to help a woman or a man; and the UK National Domestic Violence helpline (for women) and the Men’s Advice Line.
- The Citizen’s Advice Bureau guide to what sexual harassment is, and what to do about it
- UK Anti-doping’s guide to reporting concerns (it’s aimed at athletes, but of course parents and friends can also raise concerns – they will help with everything from anonymous and vague worries, to full-on investigations)
- Scarleteen’s definitions of abuse and assault, aimed at teenagers, and their other online resources about the issues
These are all UK resources, but Olympic.org, the official website of the Olympic movement, has a portal on sexual harassment in sport that includes how to spot it, international resources, and what people can expect sports federations to do about harassment and abuse.