Padania, the flag and the tour

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.

Post script
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.

21 thoughts on “Padania, the flag and the tour”

  1. Dirk Hoffman is a real pain in the ass, he often manages to place his f**** banner so the camera cannot see the action.
    I’ll surely will punch him on the face if I see him at a race finish.

  2. Just like Merckx always refuses to take sides on the Vlaams/Walloon debate, the Italian riders this week are doing their best to show loyalty to the “nation” and many of them have stories of growing up in the south, but now live in the north, or in some instances, just the opposite.

    Here in the USA, we have an absolutely horrible symbol of our civil unrest in the southern states Confederate flag. A reminder of south versus north over 150 years ago. To this day, you will see the image on hats, bumper stickers and hanging from flag poles all over the south. When will people realize, a country united, is a country strong. Plus the fact that many families have relatives in all parts of the nation.

    Economics drives much of the Flemish/French debate.
    Economics drives much of the Italian debate.
    But here in the US, if economics drove the debate, the north would be the ones complaining, not the ignorant few down south. What sense does that make?

    Back to cycling…

  3. Before you get back to cycling maybe you should ask the ignorant few what the Battle Flag of the Confederacy means to them, not to you. Southerners have a high sense of honor and pride in their country and are over-represented in the United States Military. If you are accusing Southerners of some kind of economic infraction, you sir, can stick it in your ear.

    This is the best cycling blog in the world and I apologize for being off topic.

  4. Interesting stuff, especially if you are not from the country in question and have no idea what the different flags mean. I was at the Tour of Flanders, along with hundreds of thousands of others, happily waving my lion flag and completely oblivious to any deeper meaning.

  5. For a moment I was going to ask why the UCI permitted such an openly political race to be part of the calendar, particularly as the Lega Nord (as pointed out) is not only for separation but has some unpleasant connections to Italy’s fascist past.

    Then I remembered the head of the UCI raced in South Africa under the apartheid regime (and is subject to a lifetime Olympic ban as a result) and it all became clear.

  6. I find it intriguing that the organisers behind the Giro d’Italia celebrated the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy this year while the Lega Nord, which supports separatist policies, is behind a new bike race to promote a region that does not exist and is purely politically motivated. The introduction of country teams illustrates that major teams did not want to go near this event. The violence today vindicates this decision. I suspect the UCI is watching the events carefully. Keep politics out of sport.

  7. Italy is a fascinating state on many levels and so much more than the picturesque country we see in cycle racing. If you can get hold of a copy (it is out of print now) ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ by Tobias Young (ISBN 0-571-20592-5) is worth a read. Although it was written in 2003 and some of the later Berlusconi antics have come under the spotlight, it does examine a lot of the dichotomies that exist in the country. The spirit of forgiveness of fallen heroes, while not directly addressing doping in cycling, does go a long way explain why Italian cyclists seem to be forgiven for their doping infractions/struggle to be sanctioned

  8. @ MT Dave,
    As a USA southerner most of my life, the confederate flag has been an embarrassment to most of the people I know. Proud of southern heritage is one thing, using a flag that represents separation and civil injustices is another. The latter being the biggest reason that any flag deemed uncivil by the majority of a population ought to be hidden away forever.

    Now really back to the race.

    Oss and Viviani are becoming quite the damaging combo in bunch sprints. Maybe the new Renshaw/Cav of the future.

  9. Just like the Tea Party or the KKK, there are fringe groups everywhere trying to affect politics. The Lega Nord is no different except they have some members in fairly high places in Berlusconi’s government. Same old story, someone else is to blame for my economic woes. Amazingly there are chapters of this odious group in the areas they want to cut off from their “prosperity”. A great example of stupid people acting against their own self-interest! I’ve paid no attention to any news reports about this race other than the political discussions. I should check out some photos to see who is sponsoring this farce so we can boycott them….like the motorhome guy or the clown who runs around at the tour promoting his water bottles! We have lots of friends in Italy, though none of them will admit voting for Berlusconi, somehow he keeps getting elected. But no matter, we have a visa and we’ll go and enjoy living there for the next 10 months or so. We’ll venture up to Lombardia to see the Race of the Falling leaves, whether the Lega Nord likes it or not!

  10. … oh thanks for the reminder: punch that “clean bottle” clown as well as Dirk!

    Mr Liggett has in previous years given his mate with the bottle an obscene amount of plugging. Shame. I like Phil and he should be above that. The ASO does an amazing job of sanitizing the coverage (no rubbish tips, quarries or cemeteries in France then?) such that naked self-interested, ambush marketing really stands out. I wondered why he got away with it; my sister just wanted him crash-tackled and hurled off the highest col. But then she also wants the gendarme’s motorcycles to have flailing scimitars on their wheels to clear a path through the on-road runners. Me I’d settle for the mobile force to be equipped with large, non-lethal, inflatable truncheons.

    Grumpy much? Naw.

  11. Willier is no surprise, they’re up there in Trento I believe and Francesco Moser has made some statements in support of the race opposing Gianni Bugno’s comments that it should never have been allowed on the schedule. So there are two bike brands I’ll be avoiding….anything else? I no longer pay much attention to anything TV’s Heckyl and Jeckyl say, they’re so unobjective and obviously shilling for whoever will pony up the most cash I most often turn the sound off when they’re on. I still remember one of them complaining on a Giro (where to my knowledge they’ve never been in the actual commentary box at the race) video about the organizers using different colored jerseys from their beloved Tour de France, “just to confuse us”.

  12. ‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ is by Tobias Jones, not Tobias Young. I suspect you’re thinking of inescapable useless right wing celebrity hack Toby Young. It is very good though, neatly describing the land that invented the conspiracy theory.

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