British Columbia

Mountain bikers call on Adidas to apologize after manager says better self-marketing can boost diversity

Women in the mountain bike community are calling on Adidas to apologize after its global marketing manager published a blog post in B.C. saying aspiring professionals who want to see more diversity at competitions need to make themselves more marketable, “stop complaining and start riding.”

Blog post criticized as a manifesto of how to keep the sport 'limited to white, wealthy westerners'

Anita Naidu, the first professional mountain biker of Indian descent, in an undated photo. Naidu said C.J. Selig's blog post suggests 'the reason we don't see women of colour in upper echelons of outdoor sports is due to their own poor choices and a lack of hard work or work ethic.' (Anastasia Chomlack)

Women in the mountain bike community are calling on Adidas to apologize after one of its marketing managers published a blog post in B.C. saying aspiring professionals who want to see more diversity at competitions need to make themselves more "marketable."

The author, C.J. Selig, said the article was written in response to arguments that it's always the "same 10 women" invited to mountain bike competitions because they're part of "a clique."

She said the key is "marketing" and offered advice to aspiring professionals: market yourself on social media, travel to as many competitions as you can and consider your home base.

"An athlete's most influenced fanbase is usually in their hometown; if that happens to be Siberia that isn't very appealing to sponsors," read the post, published by the WFMBike group in Whistler, B.C. 

"Fully sponsored athletes build up careers by being talented and marketable, by attending as many events or filming as much content as possible ... People who do this successfully work extremely hard and their achievements should be celebrated, not denigrated," said Selig, whose job involves managing Adidas-sponsored athletes from around the world.

"In short, stop complaining and start riding. A lot," she added.

Athletes in B.C. and abroad said the post doesn't account for the systemic barriers faced by people of colour trying to break into an expensive sport still typically dominated by white, wealthy, western athletes — even despite rapid growth over the past few years.

Selig did not respond to CBC's request for comment by deadline. 

'Ignorance about systemic barriers and inequities'

Anita Naidu, who lives in Whistler, described the article as "a manifesto of how to keep the outdoors and sports and mountain biking limited to white, wealthy westerners."

"The article refutes all systemic barriers that centuries of colonialism have established, suggesting that the reason we don't see women of colour in upper echelons of outdoor sports is due to their own poor choices and a lack of hard work or work ethic," said Naidu, the first professional downhill mountain biker of Indian descent and an ambassador for MEC.

"In a world where Eurocentric features remain the most sought after, white privilege is advising that racialized women would be included if they just made themselves more marketable."

Others said the post underscored the larger issue of discrimination in mountain biking as well as other outdoor sports.

"I think she meant it as inspirational, but what she ended up doing was essentially displaying ignorance about the systemic barriers and inequities that don't afford everyone the same access to resources and capacity to be as successful within the sport," said Naomi Maldonado-Rodriguez, 28, a Vancouver-based mountain climber who works with the Belay All group to improve diversity and inclusion in climbing.

"We're assuming that the only barrier is time and motivation and money." 

Mountain biking has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years, partly due to the number of people looking for outdoor activities in the age of a pandemic. According to the market research company NPD Group, mountain bikes and children's bikes each generated more than $1 billion in sales in 2021. 

But the growing sport still has an accessibility problem. Circuits are typically filled with wealthy, white, western athletes. 

Hannah Bergemann, a freeride and slopestyle mountain biker who rides for Redbull, is one of the "same 10 women" invited to competitions referred to by Selig.

"It's tough when that person is in power and has a lot of influence over sponsorships that are given, which can help make careers," said Bergemann, 25, who's based in Portland, Ore.

"The article helps people like me succeed to some degree ... it's harmful to people of colour," she added. "I already have a lot of privilege because of my skin colour." 

Naidu said she and several other riders contacted Adidas about the article.

In a statement to CBC, Adidas confirmed the article was written by one of its employees but "does not represent Adidas' viewpoint."

"Adidas believes that sport should be a positive space for everyone ... Due to the response from consumers, we reviewed the article and discussed it with the employee, who has made the decision to remove it," the statement concluded.

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