Over the past weeks and months, the AIJC board has held discussions with all major cycling stakeholders and the leading race organisers to discuss and understand how acceptable working conditions for the media can be created at cycling races during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
There have been numerous video calls, in which everyone showed willingness to find solutions and work together. We tried to secure one set of unambiguous rules across all major races but unfortunately this turns out to be impossible.
As is the case with the UCi’s medical protocol for teams and race organisers, it is impossible to give one set of guidelines because every country has different Covid-19 rules and are dealing with different levels of contagion and risk.
The organizers of the races have to follow and respect their governments, provinces and municipalities which all set different rules and conditions for the continuation of a cycling race. As a consequence, the media also have to respect and obey each race protocol, even if they are often different.
What we achieved
The AIJC secured the basic right to work at races for the media and then pushed to have the best possible access and working conditions, to safeguard the health of the riders and teams in their bubbles and also the health of the media at races.
We tried to obtain a safe mixed zone in the paddock around each team bus that including safe distancing, masks, etc. This idea that was received positively by quite a few teams. ASO wasn’t against this either but the Tour de France organiser had to respect the rules imposed by the French government and the UCI. The protection of the team bubble is considered vital.
The best solution was to create a safe mixed zone near the bus paddock, so that riders can talk before or after arriving at their team bus. We believe this is a safe and reasonable solution. Of course, the work of team press officers will be vital in making this mixed zone work well. However, we have also established good relationships with most teams and press officers and they share some of our goals.
So far at the races
We noticed a willingness to work together at the Vuelta a Burgos and Strade Bianche.
There was no mixed zone at the team bus paddock at Strade Bianche but despite initial limits in the race protocol, on the day there was access to the bus paddock, the start area, and the finish area where some riders talked to both TV and written media. RCS Sport also arranged a press conference with the winner, which was also streamed online and audio files where available from the mixed zone reserved for TV rights holders.
Although the number of media accreditations was limited at Strade Bianche due to the size of the press room, there was obligatory social distancing in the press room, checks on entry and even temperature controls access points to the finish.
In the Vuelta a Burgos social distancing and other precautions were strictly in place for the media, with obligatory PCR tests prior to the race, regular temperature checks in the press room (and the rule of non-admittance and exclusion for any journalist who showed a fever was applied) and the removal of a mixed zone (as decreed by the state’s health regulations) from the start and finish areas for interviews. There was also a special CoViD-19 committee overseeing the whole situation. The race organisation did an excellent job of sending interviews with the leader, stage winner and other riders leading the classifications.
In Spain mask wearing is obligatory in all outdoor spaces and fans were overwhelmingly very respectful of maintaining social distances with riders/teams, although on the last day’s climb the numbers of fans were so great social distancing between people lining the route was not possible. Working was possible for journalists at starts and finishes interviewing (at a distance) staff and some riders (depending on the team) at the team buses area. As stated a mixed zone area near the buses would seem to be the way to go, but it very much depends on teams’ collaboration. One conclusion from Burgos would be that the press officer’s role in facilitating interviews regularly is absolutely critical in this situation and teams need to realise that they may have to boost their press department in order to respond to that if they want to generate maximum publicity. Some teams are truly working hard at this, others are not.
For future races and the right behaviour
We are looking to create similar working conditions and establish access at other races, especially to reward journalists and media who take the trouble and incur the costs of traveling to races at times when it is challenging both economically, with so many media outlets suffering during the ongoing pandemic, and in practical terms to do so.
Teams and race organisers understand the value of the media attending races and are helping us but also have their own objectives and strategies as in the past.
The seriousness of the COVID-19 situation should not be underestimated.
Races are still being cancelled because they cannot be organized within the Covid-19 rules of the countries concerned.
Six riders haven’t started because of Covid-19 risks Silvian Didier missed the Strade Bianche because of a late positive Corona test. Juan Sebastian Molano, Christian Camilo Munoz and Andres Camilo Ardila didn’t start on day two of the Vuelta a Burgos because they had had contact with a person who had tested corona positive. Alex Dowsett and Itamar Einhorn were not able to start in Burgos because they had previously been at the table with teammate Omer Goldstein who had tested positive.
These case highlight the risk of the races and COVID-19.
At the AIJC we feel it is important that the working conditions for our media are safe. We do not want any media to be infected with COVID-19 at races or elsewhere.
That’s why we’ve indicated to all parties that journalists who don’t comply with the Covid-19 rules and protocols should be first warned of their unsuitable behaviour and then lose their accreditation in case of a second violation.
The media has to behave professionally in the accredited race areas and away from races in hotels and even at home. if we want to retain our access at race and with teams. We want to be part of the solution to ensure professional races continue, not part of the problem.
So far, we are happy to see that almost everyone has behaved in a disciplined manner at the recent.
Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a Burgos where both held safely, with the race organisers respecting the needs and the role of the media.
The working conditions were reasonably good under the prevailing circumstances and we hope they continue so and even improve going forward.
We all have a role to play in ensuring this is the case.