When French environmental campaigners “Dernier Renovation” briefly halted the Tour de France in the Alps on Tuesday, they hooked into a global audience with sport becoming an increasingly popular medium for viral stunts by protestors.
Climate activists “Just stop Oil” garnered a great deal of publicity at the British Grand Prix Silverstone circuit in July while, others have also glued themselves to artistic treasures from the likes of Vincent van Gough.
But sports appears to reach more people and some estimates say the Tour de France, over the 21 stages, reaches up to 3.5 billion viewers across the 190 countries in which it is broadcast.
Broadcasters cut away to a view of the Alps where holiday crowds were enjoying a sunny day out in 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) temperatures for the 15 minutes or so that the Tour de France stage 10 was held up.
But the protest has gone viral.
The same group members who sat on the road between the ski resort Les Ports du Soliel to the altiport of Megeve, recently interrupted the French tennis Open at Roland Garros in June.
“Alize”, as she was identified at the time of the May protest, chained her neck to the net and knelt on the iconic red clay, also reaching a huge audience.
With the group’s name written at neck level on her white T-shirt bearing the simple and powerful slogan written in English, not French “We have 1028 days left”, the images reached 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 have reached a global audience.
“I would prefer not to have had to do this,” she says, explaining she would rather have been with her grandfather watching the Tour on the television from his sofa.
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She goes on to predict a dystopian future without a Tour de France before finishing her message by stating she “decided instead to react and help avoid human suffering and create a new world. Everything can change”.
There is consensus in France that by fighting against the Tour de France, publicity can be attained—but that it is so popular that movements risk damaging their reputations.
Green politics is growing fast and the narrative of a concerned young woman wanting to watch the Tour with her grandfather, likely bridged a generation gap.
The 23-year-old cyclist Fred Wright of the Bahrain Victorious team was part of the small escape group of riders that first encountered the clutch of youthful campaigners.
“You know that almost straight away. They’re protesting about a good thing,” he said, before adding: “But it’s not great when it’s in front of the Tour de France.”
The 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas said he’d seen the protesters “getting dragged away” in reference to a farmers protest during his title-winning campaign.
“At least we didn’t get pepper sprayed this time,” he said.
From the Black Power salute at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 to the NFL take a knee protest for Black Lives Matter in 2016 sports protests have an established legacy in the struggle against racism.
Gender equality campaigners have also successfully used sports to get their message across, with equal pay a topical issue.
Historically, suffragette Emily Davison was trampled and killed at the English horse race the Derby way back in 1913, but gained lasting publicity for her movement.
Now environmentalists are following a well-established path in pursuit of change.
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