When French environmental activists Dernier Renovation briefly suspended the Tour de France in the Alps on Tuesday, they encountered a global audience, with sport becoming an increasingly popular medium for viral stunts by protesters.
Climate activists Just Stop Oil drew a lot of attention at the British Grand Prix Silverstone in July, while others also took their cues from artistic treasures from the likes of Vincent van Gough.
But sport seems to reach more people, and by some estimates, the Tour de France reaches as many as 3.5 billion viewers across the 21 stages across the 190 countries where it is broadcast.
The channels cut to a view of the Alps, where the holiday crowds enjoyed a sunny day in 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures for about 15 minutes, holding up Stage 10 of the Tour de France.
But the protest has gone viral.
The same group members who sat on the road between the Les Ports du Soliel ski resort and the Altiport of Megève recently disrupted the French Tennis Open at Roland Garros in June.
“Alize,” as she was identified at the time of the May protests, chained her neck to the net and knelt on the iconic red clay, also drawing huge audiences.
With the group’s name at neck level on their white t-shirt with the simple and powerful slogan in English, not French, “We have 1028 days left”, the images achieved a global platform.
On Tuesday, the same woman chained herself by the neck to a fellow protester, her t-shirt bearing the same slogan, but this time adding a sense of the clock ticking – “We have 989 days left”.
Identified as “Alice, 32” on the group’s website, the protester explained her action and her words reached a global audience.
“I would have preferred not to have to do that,” she says, explaining that she would have preferred to be with her grandfather and watch the tour on TV from his sofa.
– Emily Davidson to Colin Kaepernick –
She goes on to predict a dystopian future without a Tour de France, before ending her message by saying that she “chooses instead to respond and help avoid human suffering and create a new world.” Everything can change”.
In France, the consensus is that fighting the Tour de France can raise public awareness – but that it is so popular that movements risk tarnishing its reputation.
Green politics is growing fast and the tale of a concerned young woman who wants to see the tour with her grandfather has probably bridged a generational gap.
Cyclist Fred Wright, 23, of the Bahrain Victorious Team, was part of the small escape group of riders who first encountered the clutch of youth activists.
“You know that almost immediately. They’re protesting a good cause,” he said, adding, “But it’s not great when it’s before the Tour de France.”
2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas said he saw protesters being “dragged away” in relation to a peasant protest during his title-winning campaign.
“At least we didn’t get pepper spray this time,” he said.
From the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics to the NFL’s Black Lives Matter knee protests in 2016, sports protests have an established legacy in the fight against racism.
Gender equality activists have also successfully used sport to get their message across, with equal pay being a hot topic.
Historically, the suffragette Emily Davison was trampled and killed at The Derby in England as early as 1913, but gained enduring publicity for her movement.
Now environmentalists are following an established path to bring about change.
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