Thursday 29 September 2016

Froome has not benefited from British media love-in

Past has made Doubting Thomases of us all but kneejerk criticism of sceptics doesn't help

Ger Gilroy

Published 29/07/2015 | 02:30

Chris Froome is congratulated after his Tour de France victory by team-mates Nicolas Roche, left, and Geraint Thomas in Paris on Sunday. ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS
Chris Froome is congratulated after his Tour de France victory by team-mates Nicolas Roche, left, and Geraint Thomas in Paris on Sunday. ERIC GAILLARD/REUTERS

Every time we sit down to watch sport, either in person or on television, we bring to it our own unique collection of experiences.

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We are fan or rival; occasionally we're an honest broker without emotion beyond looking for a transcendent experience; sometimes we are sceptic or lover, then again a full-throated supporter and then there are the howling ghouls who seem only to be there to hate. That's just a small part of the fan experience.

Cycling this past three weeks has had all in full view and occasionally it felt as if the press coverage was mirroring the fans on the road. Which is a problem.

As Chris Froome and his rivals zoomed around France in glorious technicolour, it was impossible not to feel sympathy for the riders so carelessly abused by some fans. While the spitters were dismissed as loners not representative of the general public, it was hard to disassociate the coverage from the fans' actions.

The throwing of urine at the race leader and the consistent spitting incidents caught on camera are low points in any sport's relationship with the public. One short-hand explainer is that those who are questioning what they see are somehow responsible for the spitting. For every cartoon depicting Sky and Froome in a negative light another "fan" readies his saliva. Every time you ask for his data and that of his team-mates another roadside hand gesture is born. You're either a believer in what you see or you're making people spit at Chris Froome. This Tour polarised the media coverage.

The thing is the debate in this instance is not about whether or not the riders in the Tour are doping. The debate is about asking questions and seeking proof - it's been too easy to condemn the people trying to find out about the facts and figures as agenda-driven or witch-hunters. It's simply not the case.

Some journalists covering the Tour ended up taking a default position defending what they saw, like some weird variant of Stockholm Syndrome had gripped the press corps instead of calmly pointing out that this sport needs a pervasive air of questioning to allow everyone to sleep at night.

If Team Sky want us to believe in their incredible achievements they'll find that there is a willing cohort of sports fans who just want to put their hands in the wounds of the team. We are all Doubting Thomas when it comes to the miracle of Chris Froome. It's irresponsible not to be.

As the British media cried foul on partisan lines, they'd have served Froome better by insisting on more information, not criticising those who wanted it. We all want to believe in better.

Irish Independent

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