THE BLOG

Colombian Women's Cycling and How the Sport's Governing Body Helped a Twitterstorm Go Mainstream

17/09/2014 12:47 BST | Updated 16/11/2014 10:59 GMT

The beginning of this week has seen Women's Cycling hit the headlines in a way not seen since London 2012. Stories about how awesome it is? Predictions over the upcoming World Championships? No. It's that an amateur team from Colombia has a kit that - in a certain light and if the picture is of a low enough quality - can look a bit flesh coloured.

Let's get this straight from the start. The kit is gold. Gold. Like the gold in the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Colombia, where the IDRD-Bogotá Humana-San Mateo-Solgar team hails from. They've been using the kit since the team's 22-year-old rider Angie Rojas (second from left in *that* picture) designed it at the beginning of the year, and with enough success in South America for them to get invited to race in Tuscany.

The colour only appears to be a little flesh-coloured in that one picture, and actually it really doesn't at all when you look at it properly.

Several people have already blogged on the subject of why all the fuss was ridiculous and unjustified, including the excellent Alex Murray and Sarah Connolly, who both emphasise how many far more important issues need to be addressed in women's cycling. What's most worrying about this case though, is that the storm in a teacup that is Twitter managed to spill over so totally into the mainstream.

The problem here, as is too often the case, is that the women have once again been let down by the sport's own governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

The original picture was taken at the team presentation of the Giro della Toscana, in Italy, on Friday. It was passed around by a few people, who guffawed that they looked a bit "nudie", and that - so we thought - was that. As with any Twitterstorm, the problems began when some high-profile characters discovered the picture and, apparently without access to any further information, demanded action.

These people included women's cycling campaigner Kathryn Bertine and 2008 World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, both of whom - apparently without looking further - declared it "embarrassing" and "a joke" and called upon the UCI to do something about it.

The usual process is mapped out in buzzfeed's "29 Stages of a Twitterstorm," but this one has gone rogue. In normal circumstances the fact that Twitter is going crazy over a particular subject might briefly cross over into the mainstream, but - thanks to the decision of UCI President Brian Cookson to comment - the Twitterstorm has become a Media Hurricane.

Apparently also having only seen the team presentation picture, Cookson - whose successful election campaign of 2013 was built in a large part on a pledge to properly develop women's cycling - declared:

"To the many who have raised the issue of a certain women's team kit, we are on the case. It is unacceptable by any standard of decency."

Before this, all the media had was a mass of Twitter discontent, but this somewhat premature and prejudicial pronouncement from Cookson gave it a genuine story it could run with. The hysteria now no longer belonged to social media, it had gone mainstream.

In the last few days news and sport sites all over the World have gone crazy over the "story" with varying degrees of misinformation, misrepresentation and downright nonsense. The problem with social media is that people can publish without checking the facts, the mainstream media often then reports this as truth, without checking it either.

Some of the more ridiculous stories have appeared in the Metro and Daily Mirror, both of whom published a picture of the Footon-Servetto team from 2010 - who also wore gold - claiming that this was the Colombian national men's team (ignoring the fact that IDRD-Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar isn't the national team anyway). This, despite the fact that the picture actually includes the words "ProTour Cycling Team 2010" and features riders wearing the national champion's jerseys of Austria and Portugal.

Probably the worst example though, was the BBC, who thought it was funny to place a black bar over the riders' groins to preserve us from the indecency; inviting the viewer to imagine what filth must be hidden beneath.

I have to confess that, since IDRD-Bogota Humana-San Mateo-Solgar is a club team from Colombia - which means that all of the riders are amateurs and ride bikes that they paid for themselves - I don't know a great deal about them. What I do know though, is that this was the biggest race that many of them have ever done, on possibly their first ever trip to Europe.

What should have been a valuable experience for these six cyclists, which would help them to develop into better riders, has instead seen them ridiculed and reviled by thousands of people, including the governing body of the sport that they love.

Oh, and where is the UCI in this mess that it has contributed to so much? It has released a statement to the fact that it will be issuing a reprimand to the Colombian Cycling Federation for allowing one of its teams to dress this way.

What does this mean? Is the UCI declaring the kit - which is so obviously gold in every other picture except *that one* - indecent? The statement seems to say so. Neither has Cookson retracted, elaborated upon, or otherwise commented on his Tweet from Sunday evening; my enquiries with the UCI have yet to yield a reply as to whether he still thinks that the team's kit was "unacceptable by any standard of decency."

That's right, the governing body of an Olympic sport and its president is hanging six athletes out to dry in a media hurricane, along with their team and their national federation, over a badly lit picture that appeared on Twitter.