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Advancing Anti-Racism in Cycling: Powerful Young Women

By Julia Deufel, original article by Dr Marlon Moncrieffe

If you were to ask anyone shopping on a UK high street to name a black British female professional cyclist that might appear on the front cover of a cycling magazine, on a good day, you may hear the name Shanaze Reade. If you asked that same person to think of another black British female professional cyclist, you would be pushing your luck. Perhaps Kadeena Cox, the Paralympian cycling athlete, would come to mind. Ask for a third name and you are likely to be met with a blank stare, or be told, “Pass! That’s a question for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Black women have little representation in professional racing cycling in all disciplines of the sport from grassroots to Elite and Professional level.

The Dominican-born Dutch rider Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado is a black woman and a leading light in professional cycling. Ceylin has won numerous international events in Dutch, European and World Championships in Cyclo-Cross, but she remains very much an outlier in the sport. The Fédération Française de Cyclisme is nurturing their 2019 World Junior Track Champion Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky, a superb talent of Ivorian heritage who holds much promise. She is unique. No other athletes with a similar ethnic identity are currently competing at the top of the world track cycling scene.

British Cycling recently inducted Imani Pereira-James into their Olympic Junior Academy. Imani is London-born and Scottish-raised with Jamaican and Tanzanian heritage. She has grown up on the National Youth Circuit and has been cycling since she joined the Glasgow Riderz aged five. Imani wants to be the first black woman in the women’s team pursuit squad to go to the Olympics. She is a smart racer and earned her spot in the academy – she deserves to be supported. Cycling spaces that are dominated by white athletes are rarely occupied by black women. Why is that? Why are there so few black women in the global professional cycling scene?

Dr Marlon Moncrieffe has been collecting evidence to answer these questions, among others, as part of his original research project, ‘Made in Britain – Uncovering the Life-Histories of black-British Champions in Cycling’. Dr Marlon will present his evidence in his forthcoming book, ‘Desire Discrimination Determination – black Champions in Cycling’. The book offers international and historical explorations and discussions of these questions as well as many other related curiosities and subjects. Dr Moncrieffe recently presented a sample of his broader research questions during an international webinar conversation supported by Science in Sport.

Dannielle Khan, double world junior track sprint champion and multiple national and European champion, joined Dr Marlon for this conversation. Danielle is of English and Pakistani heritage and grew up in Solihull, the West Midlands of England. Also joining were Rhianna Parris-Smith, Charlotte Cole-Hossain and Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky. Rhianna is a rising star of track sprint from the English Home Counties, with African-Caribbean heritage. Charlotte is a double British national champion of mixed ethnic heritage from West Africa, Bangladesh, Denmark and Ireland who grew up in London. Marie-Divine is the 2019 world junior track sprint champion from France.

A unique gathering of powerful young women in cycling

How did these young women get into the sport? In what ways were they supported? Have they ever been targeted because of their heritage from minority-ethnic groups?
What can we do to make cycling a more accessible sport for young black, Asian and minority-ethnic group women.

Key points of interest from Dr Marlon’s discussion with these cyclists:

Noteworthy and positive:

  • Each young woman lived close to a space in her community where cycling was fun and accessible to them.
  • The groups and clubs they joined made them feel welcome.
  • Race and ethnicity as a socially constructed differentiator was not prevalent when gaining entry to these spaces.
  • Support from family, close friends and club members enabled riders to develop and pursue their love of cycling, become rising stars, showcase their excellence and become outstanding champions.
  • Elevated voices and leadership of more recognisable female cycling coaches and administrators could help support this and future generations of racing cyclists and champions of African and Asian heritage.


Noteworthy and negative:

  • Several critical incidents occurred with other cyclists or coaches where athletes were forced to speak about their ethnic differences as compared to the white majority including unwanted curiosity about their skin colour or surnames.
  • Racism in cycling can lead to a feeling of hypervisibility to the dominant ‘white gaze’ and an unwelcoming feeling of ‘otherness’.

We are grateful for the sense of privilege our audience expressed they felt in participating and bearing witness to this unique and meaningful discussion:

“Thank you so much for organising such an insightful and inspiring event. We are excited to build on the trailblazing work these amazing young women are doing to make the cycling sector a more diverse and inclusive space.” – Lucy Giuliano (Spoke Out)

“What Marie-Divine said about starting cycling thanks to a club in her culturally diverse area is telling. When kids start, it needs to be accessible, on their doorstep. Facilities don’t need to be fancy. It’s about having a safe space to ride, somewhere to take the first steps.” – Olivier N Julien (Velo Club de Londres)

“What a great session to hear from these incredible women about their experiences of cycling.” – Aneela McKenna (Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Scottish Parliament)

“Great to listen to the webinar ‘Advancing Anti-Racism in Cycling – Powerful Young Women’. Danni Khan, Marie-Divine Kouamé, Rhianna Parris-Smith, Charlotte Cole-Hossain are four superbly talented riders, role models & future leaders.” – Justin Grace (British Cycling Coach)

Danielle, Marie-Divine, Charlotte and Rhianna are unique role-models. They offer a fresh perspective on seeing and being young women in cycling.

Here are some reflections from our featured athletes after the conversation:

“I felt extremely honoured and privileged to have been given this opportunity to not only share my experiences in cycling thus far but to also get the chance to virtually meet and chat alongside some other inspirational athletes, role models and champions in the sport of cycling! Going forwards, if we can continue to keep pushing for more women role models, coaches and ambassadors… it will help to reinforce and create an even greater awareness of how cycling is for everyone, regardless of gender, race or ability, as well as how accessible it is with great pathways from grassroots through to elite level. As a result, hopefully attracting many more future champions!” – Dannielle Khan

“Being amongst champions was just an honour. Coming together with women of colour in the sport and discussing the topic was very rare and inspirational. It was great to share experiences and it is something I hope to see more of in the future!” – Rhianna Parris-Smith

“It was really good and interesting to talk with other women of colour, the subject was really important and we were all able to share our experience. Thank you for that.” – Marie-Divine Kouamé Taky

“The conversation was an enlightening and somewhat emotional experience for me. It was such a pleasure to speak alongside three inspiring young women whose experiences in the sport echo my experience, and whose cycling careers I look forward to watching unfold. I hope that this (and other similar projects) can stimulate change in the sport, and we can encourage a more welcoming environment for anyone and everyone to get involved in our beautiful sport.” – Charlotte Cole-Hossain

Written By

Dr Marlon Moncrieffe

Dr Marlon Moncrieffe is an expert in teaching and learning through theories of critical multicultural education. Moncrieffe is leader in the field on research into the history of minority-ethnic group participation in competitive cycling in Britain. His groundbreaking race education work entitled ‘Made in Britain: Uncovering the life-histories of Black-British Champions in Cycling’ has won wide acclaim for illuminating issues of racial inequality, mono-ethnic representation and the need for broader inclusion and diversity.