I am away so it’s time to reprise and old item from October 2010 but relevant to the sport today…
Followers of cycling will note that the finish of a race often sees many flags and banners being waved. My favourite is the “Dirk Hoffman Motorhomes” board, a common sight in Belgian classics. It’s inevitable, the finish line is filmed in detail and the images are repeated on news broadcasts. In other words, it’s valuable airtime.
I’ve written before about the Lion of Flanders flags and how these are often openly political symbols. Well the same is true in Italy too. Anyone watching the arrival of the Tour of Lombardy can’t have missed the giant Padania flags waving over the finish line.
Padania was long the name for the Po valley, Padus being the Latin name for Italy’s longest river, which flows across the north, from the Alps towards Venice. But in more recent years the term Padania has been used by politicians wanting to break up Italy and they lobby for the north of the country to split from the south. So these flags are the symbol of the political grouping the Lega Nord, or Northern League.
I won’t cover the detail too much but as background Italy and Italians are often fiercely proud of their regions. You aren’t just Italian, you are often Tuscan or Calabrian too. Indeed the country is made up of various kingdoms that were united in the 19th century, the completion of this occurred after the US civil war. Today some Italian politicians try to exploit these currents as well as other differences, notable the wealth gap between the north and south. The politics involved here is of a very populist form and its leader has twice received a suspended custodian sentence. It’s not moderate to say the least.
When you see the flags waving at the finish it’s because politics is trying to hijack the moment.
Similarly there is now a new race on the calendar called the Giro di Padania. Stage 1 got underway yesterday but not without political protest. Sport and politics rarely marry well and today was no exception. But this isn’t unique to northern Italy, the Vuelta is returning to the Basque country after political protest kept the race out. Nor is it new, the newspaper behind the Tour de France in 1903 had political leanings associated with the long-running Drayfus affair in France. During the Soviet era many bike races like the Peace Race carried a message and to this day many races are organised to promote something. Sometimes it is tourism and positive images, sometimes more commercial ends. Next year sees the GP E3 added to the UCI’s World Tour calendar and that is named in honour of the E3 autosnelwegen, a section of highway.
But if a pro bike race is rarely exists for the sake of pure sport, the association of Padania with far-right politics in Italy means this giro is an unusual event and possibly significantly more divisive.