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Guest editorial: The industry has an Arkansas problem

Published April 7, 2021

By Tim Jackson

Arkansas has recently passed two pieces of anti-transgender legislation that are not only hurtful and endanger transgender children and athletes, but they create a real crisis of conscience for the sport and industry of cycling in the US. The two new laws, HB 1570 and SB 354, deny transgender youth gender-affirming care, and prevent transgender girls and women from competing in sports in their gender of identity. HB 1570 is called the SAFE Act (Save Adolescents From Experimentation), yet endangers the very youth it is alleged to protect. These backward and cruel laws are an attack on human rights and inclusivity.

And this presents a major problem for the U.S cycling world, with Arkansas becoming a destination of choice and money in recent years. The Walton family, of Walmart fame, has pushed heavily to create an image of Bentonville as being a cycling paradise, and the 2022 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships are being held in Fayetteville. The Waltons, who also own a majority in Rapha and are investors in HIA Velo (parent of Allied Cycle Works). Walmart also owns the Viathon brand. The family also has been financing or lobbying for a big chunk of the cycling projects in the state. And it’s been working, as Arkansas has become a legitimate cycling destination. And that’s where the problem arises for cycling, amidst these new anti-trans laws. Cycling has long fought for greater inclusivity and has sold itself as being welcoming, even though remaining largely “pale, male, and stale.”

When SB 354 was signed into law on March 25, there were immediate calls for boycotts of Arkansas and the CX Worlds in 2022. There was also immediate pushback against boycotts, highlighting that the boycotts also potentially hurt those on the ground doing great work for cycling, but also for the trans community. Brook Watts, who is the promoter of CX Worlds, put out a statement condemning the legislation, while asking folks to direct their outrage at political figures, while supporting the time, effort, and hard work of those on the ground making CX Worlds a reality. All good points, by the way. But Brook, USAC, and the UCI need to push to move CX Worlds out of the state, unless the laws are revoked. More over, the industry needs to pull all support if that move doesn’t happen. 

Boycotts suck. Brook is awesome. I worked with him as a sponsor of CrossVegas in the past. I fully respect the really awful spot he’s in; he didn’t want this controversy at all. If the event stays in Arkansas, he stands to lose a lot of money, as well as suffer the negative fallout. If the event does move, he stands to lose money from disputes with the Arkansas venue and associated vendors, etc. It’s a series of unsavory options. 

(Editor's note: Unlike CrossVegas, which Watts owned, Watts does not own the Fayetteville World Cup or World Championships and does not have the final call on where the events are located). 

But we, as an industry and a sport, must take a stand. USAC needs to make it clear that they will not send athletes to compete. The industry needs to say it won’t attend, no matter how many perks they get in the VIP tent, unless the event is moved. We can collectively put our money where we say our values are. We have to take a stand. We’re either inclusive, or we aren’t. If we simply shrug our shoulders and say, “boycotts are not fun,” and then move on, we are sending a very shitty message to transgender people around the world. We need to do more than simply put out PR statements and posts to social media about supporting transgender persons. We need to hurt a little, in an effort to not just show support, but take action. It’s been proven time and again, when you take the money away, you get the attention of the people who want that money.

Until Arkansas reverses these hurtful new laws, the cycling community that has been flocking to the state and leaving money behind needs to send a clear message —  and that includes the industry itself.

Editor's note: Jackson has worked for several major U.S. brands and now owns PowWord Communications.

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