French cycling team flies into sexism storm

The French Cycling Federation on Saturday defended its decision to pay for business seats for male cyclists while its women's team flew economy on the long trip to the World Championships in Australia.

French cycling team flies into sexism storm
The French team competes in the Men's Team pursuit event of the Track Cycling European Championships in Munich in August. Photo: John MACDOUGALL/AFP

The French Cycling Federation on Saturday defended its decision to pay for business seats for male cyclists while its women’s team flew economy on the long trip to the World Championships in Australia.

While the men’s team, including two-time defending world champion Julian Alaphilippe, travelled in comfort, the seven women riders as well as the rest of the delegation including male and female competitors entered in the junior events and the support staff, were all in the back of the plane.

The first report in a French newspaper provoked a storm of protest on social media.

Christophe Manin, French cycling’s national technical director, told AFP that flying the team to Australia “costs a lot of money.”

“Some countries, like Ireland, have decided not to participate in the World Championships. We asked ourselves if we should take all the categories, especially the juniors. We did it.

“But we don’t have the means to put everyone in business,” said Manin, who decided not to make the trip himself to save money.

He said the federation had based its decisions on one main criterion: the ability to compete for medals — and the men had better chances.

“For the men, we’ve been world champions for the last two years. We are really going there to win, while we are more of an outsider in the girls’ competition”, he said.

“If we had the mountain bike world championships in Australia with the same economic choice to make, we would put the two girls in business and the boys in economy”, he said, because French women riders Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Loana Lecomte have better results than the men.

Team manager Thomas Voeckler travelled economy for the championships in Wollongong outside Sydney.

“I am concentrating on the sport and I have no energy to lose as long as the riders of the French team are proud to wear the colours of the jersey,” said Voeckler.

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Twice victimised: French women accuse police of downplaying rape

Four years after the #MeToo movement, French victims of gender-based violence are still struggling to obtain justice, with the police accused of failing to take their complaints seriously.

Montpellier's main police station, where sexual assault victims claim to have been stigmatised.
Montpellier's main police station, where sexual assault victims claim to have been stigmatised. Photo: SYLVAIN THOMAS / AFP.

In the past weeks, France has been gripped by a wave of new stories of sexual assault and harassment and complaints this time are focusing on the way police treat women who come forward to report cases of assault or abuse.

The outpouring was triggered by an Instagram post by feminist Anna Toumazoff relating women’s experience when reporting attacks at the main police station in the southern city of Montpellier.

Toumazoff described victims as being stigmatised, humiliated and made to feel guilty by the police, two years after the government launched a major drive to train up officers on handling cases of gender-based violence.

“In France, police ask rape victims if they had an orgasm,” Toumazoff tweeted, referring to the case of a 19-year-old woman who reported a rape in early September.

Toumazoff claimed rape victims were told that a person who has been drinking had “automatically consented” to sex and that they “should not destroy lives” by bringing charges against their attackers.

Montpellier police in dock

The allegations led thousands of abuse victims across France to share stories of dismissive or contemptuous treatment by police, using the hashtag “DoublePeine” (victimised twice).

The state’s representative in the Herault region where Montpellier is located threatened Toumazoff with a lawsuit for slander.

But the government of Emmanuel Macron, who has made tackling violence against women a key theme of his presidency, lent a more sympathetic ear.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that around 90,000 police officers had received training over the past two years in handling abuse cases with empathy and sensitivity.

But he admitted that there was “certainly” room for improvement and promised an investigation into the Montpellier complaints.

Echoes of #MeToo

There have been several French offshoots of the global #MeToo movement smashing taboos around sexual harassment and assault.

In 2017, the #BalancetonPorc (Expose Your Pig) hashtag was used by thousands of women to post stories of abuse.

Three years later, a scandal involving a prominent intellectual accused of sexually abusing his teenage stepson triggered thousands of people to share harrowing accounts of abuse within families, using the #Metooinceste slogan.

The reckoning with abuse has extended to cinema, politics and elite colleges in a country where seduction is traditionally viewed as an integral part of French culture and women who complained about harassment were often dismissed as puritanical.

‘Not a child molester’

On the website, hundreds of women describe their struggle to have their cases taken seriously by police.

One said she was date raped and then told by police that she should drop the complaint because her attacker had “suffered enough” by being called in for questioning.

Another woman claimed that police brushed off her repeated complaints of domestic violence, on the basis that her husband was “not a child molester”.

Faced with such attitudes, several women said they withdraw their complaints.

Bringing in lawyers

Fabienne Boulard, a senior police officer who trains fellow officers on how to handle domestic violence cases, admitted to AFP that the police’s response was “still not the best”.

Officers still needed much help to navigate complex issues like the psychological violence that often accompanies domestic abuse cases, she said.

Darmanin has proposed sending officers to meet victims at a safe place to register their complaint instead of making them come to the police station.

But the #NousToutes (All of Us) feminist group said the problem was not where, but how police interacted with victims.

A group of around 100 lawyers has lobbied the government to allow rape victims to bring a lawyer when filing complaints, with gender equality minister Elisabeth Moreno saying she is “favourable” to the idea.