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The Breakaway

In a maximum security prison in Oudenaarde (Belgium) Decathlon launched “The Breakaway”, the first eCycling team for prisoners. This way they can ride and race with people from the outside world, on the virtual cycling platform Zwift. The initiative is part of Decathlon’s broader vision to make sport accessible for all.

“Decathlon aims to make sport accessible to all. With this project, we want to show that sport brings people together, despite differences or prejudices. A shared passion, in this case cycling, puts all this aside. We believe that sport is the key to teaching people how to live together, help and respect each other. Values that become all the more important when these prisoners are released from prison, and have to re-integrate into society.”

Thomas Lejeune Debarre, Marketing & Communication leader Decathlon Belgium

Sports and exercise are a meaningful and positive activity for prisoners. Exercise has a positive impact on their mental health, and it can be a way to release negative energy and reduce anxiety and stress. Besides benefitting inmates’ mental health and behaviour, sport in prison also improves their chances of rehabilitation. Thanks to its accessible nature, sports is a good way of overcoming certain barriers and reclaiming a place in society. Therefore each member of the Breakaway team received a bike, a connected trainer and all the other necessary equipment for them to ride in the virtual cycling worlds of Zwift. Thanks to a smart trainer, the hills they rode felt real and through an internet connection, other riders from the outside world were visible to them.

More than just cycling

The Breakaway was created by BBDO Belgium in collaboration with Cellmade, “De Rode Antraciet” vzw (a non-profit advocating sports & culture within prisons) and the Belgian Department of Justice. This unique project allowed inmates to regain some of their freedom and to connect with others, outside prison walls and we were more than glad to offer our support.

Together we devised a fitting PR approach from the initial launch in March 2021 running up to the race day itself. The project/campaign itself was launched with a video portraying the 6 inmates anonymously as they testified on how sport makes them feel free and allows them to escape prison walls for a brief moment. The campaign’s message, “Sport is freedom”, was all the more relevant as freedom outside prison walls was also limited at the time due to Covid.

From the launch, the six team members of the The Breakaway team and ourselves had 8 months to prepare for the final race against a team of judges, members of the Department of Justice, Prison Guards and other law enforcers. The race – which was won by Team Justice- was streamed live through Decathlon’s facebook page and got picked up by (inter)national media. The widespread coverage  highlighted how sport has a positive influence on people’s mental health, that it is important to give detainees positive guidance from day one and The Breakaway was a new step towards achieving this.

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