'It's just humiliating': Eurosport's lead cycling presenter Orla Chennaoui opens up about sexual assault whilst carrying out her work

Chennaoui referred to 'a constant power play'

Orla Chennaoui
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Eurosport's lead cycling and Olympics presenter Orla Chennaoui has spoken about the sexual harassment she has experienced whilst carrying out her work.

Speaking in an interview with 'Off The Bench' podcast she described having her breasts groped by a senior member of management and resorting to repeatedly "physically slapping" off a team boss. Both instances of harassment she referred to were in relation to working with cycling teams.

Discussing the effect this harassment has had upon her, she said "it's just humiliating." 

Speaking on the weekly podcast, hosted by journalist and writer Molly McElwee, Chennaoui said: "I’ve been in social occasions around bike races where I’m there as a professional but have been sexually assaulted. I have been groped. 

"But because it happens in front of other people, it’s seen to be a bit of fun and games, when actually it’s just humiliating."

Referring to one incident which took place after an event she was hosting, the 43-year-old mother of two recalled: "We were on the dance floor afterwards and a senior member of management came over and groped me on my breasts. I wasn’t even talking to him, dancing with him, nothing. I was in shock."

She added: "My friend went up to him afterwards and said, 'Why did you do that?' and he said, ‘Because she was there.’"

In reference to a seperate incident, she said: "Another team boss was doing something very similar repeatedly and every time I was physically slapping him off. It took another young rider to come over, this kid younger than me, to say 'Leave her alone' and he did - because it came from a male voice."

Chennaoui maintained that sexism in sport had not ultimately held her back in her career - she is currently Eurosport's lead presenter for cycling news and has hosted its coverage of the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, among others, so far this year. However, she said: "the role that a lot of men traditionally have seen women as having within sport has been a big challenge."

Looking back on her career, she expressed concern that other young women might have to navigate similar issues, saying "I had quite a few issues, where I look back now that make me really sad and I would hate any other young woman to have to go through."

She referred to "a constant power play", saying: "The problem is, as a woman, we get so used to this power abuse and men being in control, certainly when you’re coming up through the ranks."

Her comments come not long after a report released by the Bicycle Association, and delivered in collaboration with Cycle Industries Europe’s Women in Cycling programme, found that senior leaders within the industry are "overwhelmingly white, heterosexual men" and that the industry fostered "cultures of harassment and unfair treatment."

The report revealed that 71% of female respondents said they were considering leaving the industry, far exceeding similar intentions in the automotive industry, where 40% of women are considering leaving.

One female working for a small supplier/manufacturer/brand in Asia said: "The number of times I have been sexually harassed merely because I was one of few, or indeed the only women in the mix, is only topped by the number of instances I have been discriminated against for being a woman in a ‘man’s environment’."

The 'Off the Bench' podcast is produced by 2Tone Creative & Footwork Media and features guest co-host two-time Paralympic champion Lauren Rowles MBE; it invites extraordinary women athletes, coaches and leaders in sport to talk about their careers and share moments when they have felt sidelined. Episodes are released every Tuesday. 

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1