Before the Tour de France got underway, there was a significant announcement that didn’t get the attention the issue, to those it affects most, probably warrants.
The shorthand summary of what the announcement was can be trimmed neatly into, basically, British cyclists taking on the UK Government.
Politics and sport shouldn’t mix, say detractors, but the experience of a young British cyclist has been negatively hindered and hampered by the political decision of Brexit. And the riders, the biggest of them all, are fighting back.
In a letter to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 12 British riders who are riding the Tour de France or rode Saturday’s La Course, called for an amateur sportspersons visa of something of the ilk to be put in place before 2022.
It echoes what many young riders, teams and their families have been calling for in the past six months, and what some predicted would be required before the UK left the European Union.
The problem, as the letter outlines, is that pre-Brexit, dozens and dozens of young Brits went abroad for as long as they wanted to and race in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, or whatever European country they fancied.
It has been the breeding ground for pretty much every single British rider, most aided in the past two decades by The Rayner Foundation.
After Great Britain left the EU’s single market at the end of 2020, Britons can only be in the EU for a period of 90 days within 180 days, scuppering any chance riders have of spending eight-month seasons in another country, unless they are resident there, a difficult process that is nigh on impossible to obtain for an amateur sportsperson.
Until Friday, though, the worries and concerns were a niche talking point. It has been highlighted on numerous occasions on the web and magazine pages of Cycling Weekly, but it hadn’t gone mainstream. Now, it has.
Chris Froome’s signature is powerful. Geraint Thomas’ and Lizzie Deignan’s, too. British Cycling led the letter, and the fact that they feel so strongly about it that they brought on board the country’s leading cycling names shows how determined they are to bring the government to task on this.
A national governing body will lobby the Government from time to time, but this lobbying is different, because they believe the future of British cycling is at risk should new arrangements with EU countries not be made. It’s that big of a deal.
“We are the fortunate ones, with professional contracts with top tier teams, but if we had experienced the current restrictions on visa-free residency early in our careers, we might not have achieved that privileged position,” the letter states.
There’s no messing about here with the letter and the aim: something has to change.
The likelihood of a visa permitting amateur cyclists – whose only income while abroad now will be grants they receive from the Rayner Foundation and other such charities, given they can no longer even legally have a small, part-time job in EU countries – is probably quite slim.
Similar calls have been made of the Government regarding the music industry, but Boris Johnson and his Cabinet have expressed a number of times that they don’t want any close alignment with the EU.
It leaves Britain’s future as a cycling powerhouse – a term that could not have been written even 10 years ago – extremely uncertain. The fact is that there won’t be more Tao Geoghegan Harts, Jake Stewarts and James Knoxes if British teenagers can’t get the essential racing required on the Continent.
The letter is unambiguous in this opinion, and feels like the first major step in what could be a long battle to allow British cycling to remain at the top of the sport.
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