Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Tour de France and International Politics

A political scientist colleague sent me a link to this story by Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy about the intersection of sports and world politics. Walt, best known perhaps for his article "The Israel Lobby," here lists his top-ten "episodes where sporting events actually had an effect on world politics, or told us something about how the world was changing." Not surprisingly, seven of the ten are related to the Olympics or to the FIFA World Cup...

But none--not even the "also-rans"--are related to cycling and the Tour de France. Given that the Tour is the third largest global sporting event (in terms of media coverage) and the largest annual event it is strange that there have not been any huge "turning-point" moments to come out of it.

The only events that may come close were some of the strikes--notably the one led by Hinault, that may have led to more consiousness (in Europe, or more particularly, in France) about the situation of the working class--and the death of Tom Simpson that led to more scrutiny on doping in professional sports.

Yes, the Tour has significance for the way it reflects national and regional identity, it has played a key role in society's grappling with the limits of human performance, it has created some international icons, but it has not produced any key episodes of global importance that deserve being in any top-ten list. As a cycling fan, I hope you will please tell me I'm forgetting some...

1 comment:

Dave Wyman said...

I say we should be glad that cycling hasn't had a global effect like several of the other listed sports.

Perhaps the exception is the repeated accusations/admissions of doping in the cycling world, which has focused world-wide attention on the issue.

Certainly the U.S. public is more interested when pro baseball players are implicated in doping, and Canadians were probably more interested in sprinter Ben Johnson's doping.

But cycling has raised global consciousness about doping to a far greater extent.