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#Richmond2015: A meaningful reunion

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Leszek Sibilski (center), Jan Zak, and Adam
Baloniak, 1974 Championship of Poland.

“Some die too young, some die too old; the precept sounds strange, but die at the right age.”Friedrich Nietzsche
What would you do if were a young and restless teenage boy in communist Poland in the early 1970s? Join one of the communist youth organizations or serve as an altar boy? There were not too many options for extracurricular activities fitting my temperament and boundless energy besides sports such as soccer, boxing, track and field, or cycling. At that time the Polish road cyclists were untouchable in May’s Peace Race. I opted for cycling with quick signs of a bright future. I came in third at the national youth games in a time trial with less than 12 months of training, and the first track national title a year later with more to follow.
History demonstrates that during the Cold War, sport was as much an arena of competition between socialist states as it was between the capitalist and communist worlds. We were competing hard against anybody, but during the so-called Friendship Games, the unofficial championships of the Warsaw Pact, we became ruthless gladiators of our millennial Polish pride.  Poland’s geopolitical as well as geographical location was, and always will be, between Germany and Russia, and at that time, the Soviet Union (USRR) and East Germany (GDR) bordered us. Both of these esteemed giants frequently went about conquering and changing Poland’s geopolitical landscape.  Thus, winning a medal at the World Championships was great, but winning a medal at the Friendships was something special. I earned two silvers in 1976, and they are still very precious to me.

When competing against teams from capitalist states the expectation was that we were representing the victorious socialist system, but as teenagers we were not thinking about that at all. We were able to observe the differences of what was going on behind the Iron Curtain and share them with our peers and families. In fact, from a temporal perspective, I think we were agents of change by emulating the looks, fashion, and behavior of young people from the West, and although we frequently traveled abroad, our passports were routinely deposited in the offices of the Ministry of Interior.

Global cyclists say NO to carbon - opt for CDM

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

bikes in Ghana“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” - John F. Kennedy
From cradle to grave …

Currently, two billion bicycles are in use around the world. Children, students, professionals, laborers, civil servants and seniors are pedaling around their communities. They all experience the freedom and the natural opportunity for exercise that the bicycle easily provides.

That number could rise to as many as five billion bicycles by 2050, especially with the development of the electric bike that we are seeing worldwide. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike, and the annual production of bicycles is now over 100 million per year. In comparison, car production is currently at about 60 million units per year.

The bicycle is unique and deserves to be given a focus by the global community that it surprisingly has not yet received.

This is especially true of politicians who often underestimate the power of voters who take their freedom to pedal very seriously. City planners also need to be aware of how the bicycle contributes to decreased congestion and improved urban livability worldwide. There are, however, some wonderful exceptions such as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, Rome mayor, Ignazio Marino, Taipei mayor, Ko Wen-je, the 108th Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, Paris mayor, Anne Hildalgo, Rio de Janeiro mayor, Eduardo Paes, and former Washington DC mayor, Adrian Fenty who recognize the importance of incorporating bikes into city planning.

Many countries and cities already share best practices on how to become more cycling friendly. A process that the European Cyclists’ Federation and World Cycling Alliance is heavily engaged in, which recently lead to the EU ministers of Transport agreeing in a groundbreaking “declaration on cycling as a climate friendly transport mode” at a meeting in Luxembourg in early October 2015.

The former mayor of Munich, Christian Ude once said, "Do we want people in leading positions that are too scared to cross a city center on a bicycle? Of course not.  Let cyclists get at it!”  Cyclists – as citizens - tend to be a very organized and active group with bulk voting power that could be unleashed at any time to advocate for global policy change.

Women and bicycles - the solution for those left behind in the wake of the Mediterranean human tsunami

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Also available in: العربية

The entire world is hypnotized by the struggle of the European continent with the rapidly escalating numbers of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Yet, only a handful reflect about the plight of those who stay behind, entangled in violence and persecution, or those who remain in refugee camps. Some believe those 'left behind' are the solution and saviors to the future of the Middle East and Africa, and one great way to help them is to give them bicycles.

//“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” – Susan B. Anthony

In 2015 alone, the UN Refugee Agency reported that of the 520,957 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, 2,980 died or went missing. Eighteen percent of the migrants are children and 13% are women. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, an estimated 200,000 additional refugees are still planning to make the sea journey by the end of 2015. So, the seismic human waves are far from subsiding in the region.

Today, there are a series of internal and regional armed conflicts around the world, most of which are concentrated in two regions: the Middle East and Africa. The desperate attempts by so many Syrians to flee Assad regime’s and the Islamic state’s terror by escaping to security in Europe has caught the world’s attention. However, Syrians are not alone in deserving compassion. Although international interest in Afghanistan has waned and most foreign troops are gone, the war there is only getting worse. In addition, there is an influx of desperate refugees from Eritrea, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia, and Bangladesh who are just as entitled to refugee status as the others.

While humanity is being washed ashore in the Mediterranean Sea, the treacherous passage does not resemble a migration, but a human tsunami. The departing refugees and migrants leave a vacuum, as the most skilled, able-bodied, and educated keep leaving the continent, most of them are males.  This leaves females, elderly and disabled behind and entangled in the local violence. The families left behind often count on reuniting with their loved ones in the near future or hope to receive remittances to support their livelihoods as they try to rebuild their communities. 
What should the world do with these gutted societies? The global community should invest in women power, leadership opportunities for women, and in modifying the social order with regards to female emancipation on the continent. We must pay immediate attention and react with empathy and solidarity.