Estonian cyclist Madis Mihkels has been pulled from the in-progress GREE-Tour of Guangxi race in the People's Republic of China, after a social media post in which he appeared to be making a racist "slant-eyed" gesture went viral. Mihkels, and a Belgian teammate involved in making the post and whose account was used, have been looking for ways to leave China following the incident.
Speaking to portal Delfi, Mihkels said: "My teammates and I together made a 'slant-eyed gesture' in jest. We didn't do so with bad intentions or in public, but unfortunately, the video went online and was circulated. I can only apologize, and at the moment we are considering leaving China."
Fortunately, the police have been understanding and they are trying to do everything to enable me to leave the country without any issues. It was for us a little inappropriate joke, but in China this is a relatively serious matter," he went on, adding that the start of the next Tour of Guangxi stage, when teams and riders are announced, could be the most likely time at which he might face any possible backlash.
ERR's Sport portal reports that Mihkels, 20, who races for the Belgian-based Intermarche–Circus–Wanty team, posted the video (see screen grab) along with teammate Gerben Thijssen of Belgium.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) referred the case to its committee, meaning Mihkels and Thijssen are likely to face disciplinary action as a result of the post.
"The UCI strongly condemns the behavior of Madis Mihkels (Estonia) and Gerben Thijssen (Belgium) when they published a video on Thijssen's Instagram account in which Mihkels makes a racist and discriminatory gesture," the association wrote in a press release Wednesday evening.
Thijssen had subsequently closed down his Instagram account, ERR reports.
The UCI also praised the quick responses from the Intermarche–Circus–Wanty team and from race organizers.
Mihkels and Thijssen also issued an apology at a meeting with local authorities and race organizers, the UCI says.
Cycling news reports that later on Wednesday afternoon, the UCI announced that the incident had been referred to its Disciplinary Commission, citing article 12.4.004 of the UCI regulations relating to discrimination, which states that: "Any person or entity subject to this Part who, by word or deed, demeans, discriminates against or denigrates a person or group of persons in a manner that violates human dignity on the grounds of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political belief, language, ethnic or national origin or social condition shall receive a disciplinary sanction."
The Intermarche–Circus–Wanty team issued a statement in French and in English which read: "We sincerely regret the behavior of our rider Madis Mihkels, and the images shown on social media. We would like to apologize to the Chinese people and fans, to the government of Guangxi, to the Chinese cycling association, and all parties involved in the organization of Tour of Guangxi, for the image given of our sport."
"We will withdraw Madis Mihkels from the race, and take the necessary disciplinary steps to close this incident," the statement went on.
Statement on Madis Mihkels pic.twitter.com/vnrN0ka5cZ— Intermarché-Circus-Wanty (@IntermarcheCW) October 11, 2023
Subsequently, the team noted that Thijssen had also been withdrawn from the race.
The Guangxi Tour is a UCI World Tour event held in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of Southern China.
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: ERR Sport, Delfi, Cycling News, Intermarche–Circus–Wanty