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An Open Letter to Cycling Australia

An Open Letter to Cycling Australia

There’s a common love of cycling that has brought us together over the years but I feel that the time has come to express a few concerns. One purpose of this letter is to open a discussion on a topic that myself and many others in our community are passionate about.

Although much of what I’m going to say has a negative tone, I’d like to mention early that I’m aware that sports administration – particularly in the modern era – is not an easy task. Furthermore, I recognise that much has been done to improve the state of competitive cycling in Australia in recent years.

For all the good work, however, there’s a lot that could be improved with some basic consultation with numerous stakeholders.

It’s not possible to reference all aspects of what has the potential to be an extremely long discussion but, for the purpose of this letter, I’m going to list a few points of frustration.

  • Cycling Australia’s main remit is to be an administrator: it is not a race promoter, not a media outlet, not a lobby group.
  • Cycling Australia should place a greater emphasis on grassroots development and be more inclusive to all associated with the sport – not just elite competition.
  • Cycling Australia should cooperate with its stakeholders rather than against them.
  • Cycling Australia should communicate better – by being open and accountable; full transparency will greatly improve credibility.
  • Cycling Australia should provide better value membership packages – or customisable options that suit its constituency better than the existing options.
  • Cycling Australia is prone to announcing “reviews” but there is little subsequent communication. The NRS “review”, for example, was announced in January and yet no one knows of any affirmative action from this process – not the media, the promoters, the teams, or the sponsors.

 

Beyond that, let’s have a look at some of the basics, beginning with two opening statements from the 2015 Cycling Australia Annual Report.

 

* * * * *

 

• Our Vision

To be the world’s leading cycling nation… through performance, participation and advocacy.

• Our Mission

To inspire Australians to ride with us. Everyday. Everywhere.

 

* * * * *

 

These are noble statements and objectives with true merit but from my perspective they are not being met by Cycling Australia.

It is true that Australia boasts a large contingent of world-class cyclists who excel on the international stage. And while winning isn’t the only mark of success, there have been sufficient conquests in the many cycling disciplines for everyone to feel proud.

Australian cyclists have had an enormous impact on the sport in recent years but if Cycling Australia continues with its current trajectory it risks becoming irrelevant in the broader sporting landscape.

What’s most upsetting about the frustrations experienced by many stakeholders who have long been involved with the sport is that it comes at a time when cycling in Australia is really on the cusp of prospering.

Interest in the sport has never been so high.

Participation – the act of riding – is growing.

There are myriad disciplines that are attracting men and women, young and old, and the potential of cycling is enormous. And yet for every step forward, it seems Cycling Australia is taking a few steps backward.

The hindrances may be financial constraints or other practical excuses but it shouldn’t mean that positive momentum needs to come to a halt.

What Cycling Australia has at its disposal is a large community of likeminded people who are willing to work together to achieve a common goal – in the words of the annual report: “to inspire Australians to ride”!

Alas, in the current climate, there seem to be limitations imposed on many who are actually in a position to help.

 

For over 25 years I have been professionally involved in cycling. I have a long history with Cycling Australia and the support received when establishing RIDE Media (back in 1998) was pivotal in helping it become not just a viable business, but a successful one.

Of late, however, the tone of contact from Cycling Australia has gone from positive and cooperative, to hostile with a sense of disdain.

RIDE Media is a small business that does not have the benefit of government grants. The success of the company relies on support from readers and advertisers who share a common passion: cycling.

For many years RIDE Media has strived to report on the state of cycling – the good, the bad and the ugly – with integrity and honesty. We continue to do this but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Cycling Australia has ceased attempts at cooperative partnerships in favour of building its own assets; in other words, the federation believes that beyond being administrators of the sport, it is also a media agency in its own right. This affects my business but that is not my only gripe; rather, in this instance, the issue is that even the small business arrangements that had been brokered (ie. a subscription offer with a discount for CA members when they sign up or renew their membership) ceased without any consultation.

It was only a minor initiative but it is indicative of how the current management of CA operates.

It is absolutely apparent that all NSOs (national sporting organisations) have media initiatives as part of their remit. It is necessary if the federations are to increase, for example, traffic to their own websites as a mechanism to drive membership. But when it comes at the cost of answering legitimate questions from external media then there’s the risk that genuine, open and honest reporting will suffer.

RIDE has a long history of support for many aspects of what Cycling Australia does. We cover events, profile riders, and have always encouraged our readers to become members (as there are many associated benefits such as insurance). And we do this because we believe that cooperation within the ranks is necessary. Furthermore, if cycling – as a sport – prospers, so does our business.

While the subscription offer has been removed without notice, we continue to share material on social media and report on the positive contributions to the sport made by Cycling Australia.

This Open Letter represents one of the first times we have been openly critical of the management and it has not been written without due consideration.

There is value in the fourth estate, for proper journalism ensures that all topics are explored rather than there just being a sequence of one-sided media releases.

All sports have supportive and critical evaluations from the media. This is an obvious relationship and the need to find the right balance is perhaps even more pertinent with many forms of cycling as the main source of revenue is sponsorship. Track cycling is a rare chance for tickets to be sold, otherwise most of the ‘entertainment’ is free for spectators. As such, exposure in the media is one of the true assets for Cycling Australia…

There is a long history of positive collaboration with media outlets, some of which is reiterated in this Open Letter but it is beginning to wane, particularly when there’s even the smallest hint of criticism.

 

The more that I explore the relationship CA has with other stakeholders, the more it becomes apparent that the prevailing attitude – the tendency to shut people out of discussion that is not in line with CA policy – is not limited to me and my business.

Rather than being supportive and accommodating, as I know Cycling Australia can be – because it very much has been in the past – there is now a sense of arrogance and pettiness that is unnecessary, detrimental to positive momentum, frustrating, and upsetting.

 

The 2015 CA Annual Report states:

“The growth of cycling is a shared responsibility of many stakeholders. In the short term Cycling Australia will aim to unify the important industry and sport partners, collaborate with member states and clubs, protect, promote and uphold the values of cycling, while looking to strengthen cycling’s voice on important advocacy matters.”

Again, noble intentions but, on a number of fronts, there’s little evidence of this remit being achieved.

I’ve often said that one of cycling’s major problems is that many of those involved believe they are the most important entity for the success of the sport: the participants, the fans, the media, the sponsors, the administrators, etc… in fact, they are all integral to the prosperity of cycling.

But for the sport to succeed there must be collaboration and cooperation between all parties – not a disconnect.

 

In my appraisal, there are numerous flaws in the approach of CA and the priorities seem to be skewed in favour of a select few rather than considering the cycling community as a whole.

There’s a dominant focus on the results of the High Performance Unit.

And the need to kowtow to the Australian Sports Commission for the sake of attaining important, and significant, government funding illustrates that the stated objectives are only an afterthought typeset on an annual report for the sake of achieving some semblance of a feel-good factor others can nod along to.

If the aim is to “inspire Australians to ride”, it seems odd that such a strong emphasis is placed upon Olympic success.

Most of us recognise that the ASC funding model is based on respective governments’ desires for gold, gold and more gold, but at some point someone within the system needs to make a stand.

Considering the outcomes of the Rio Games, now is the time to state the obvious and explain the notion that there’s much more to sport than the so-called “Olympic dream”.

I recognised that the ASC props up the HPU, and the HPU props up CA. But surely the very fact that CA is an entity established with membership at its core, then the voice of the members should also be heard.

My job requires me to interact with numerous people who are part of that group classified as “stakeholders” and the overwhelming tone of discussions relating to Cycling Australia is frustration.

For all the proactive engagement that is conducted by Cycling Australia – and it’s important to recognise that there are plenty of good initiatives – there are many stakeholders who are upset, disgruntled, annoyed and, sadly, ignored.

The more I speak with people about Cycling Australia, the more apparent it becomes that there is a high level of dissatisfaction.

 

What compels me to write this Open Letter is that I know that there is enormous interest in the act of cycling. For many it begins with recreation or for fitness or for transport and doesn’t take long before that morphs into genuine sporting aspiration. People are engaged by cycling and they want to do it more.

The remit of Cycling Australia is reiterated throughout the annual report but above all the early sentiment ought to be the dictum.

Have a vision. Make a mission statement. But please adhere to it and work with those who are keen to see the sport of cycling progress.

We all would like Australia “to be the world’s leading cycling nation… through performance, participation and advocacy.

And it makes sense that, to achieve this, we should “inspire Australians to ride with us. Everyday. Everywhere.

So let’s all continue to chase these valuable ideas, and do so by working with everyone involved not in isolation, behaving as though anyone outside the Cycling Australia family is an imposter.

We are all valuable members of the broader cycling community – the participants, the fans, the media, the sponsors, the administrators, etc – so can we please begin behaving like a cooperative rather than a sequence of separate entities which only have their own interests in mind?

 

Personally, I’ll continue to write about cycling no matter how frustrated I am with Cycling Australia, the ASC, the UCI, the IOC or any other organisation that is pivotal in ensuring that cycling is as prosperous as it can be.

I’ll continue to ride my bike and hopefully encourage others to do so. Surely everyone who works for and with Cycling Australia will also strive to do the same.

There’s value in partnerships but from my experience Cycling Australia has been so determined to achieve its “vision” – its “mission” – that it has stopped listening to the other stakeholders and working with them.

Why can’t we ride together instead of in separate bunches, each with our own ambitions?

 

There are ambiguous themes in this Open Letter because to reference individual examples of the frustrations that have emerged in recent times would not be practical.

If nothing else, I’d like to think that voicing concerns about the manner in which Cycling Australia is conducting affairs will provide a catalyst for the other stakeholders to step forward and add their contributions.

Should any readers feel frustrated by the way that Cycling Australia is administering the sport at the moment, I urge you to invest some time to list your grievances. Of course, a critical element to any criticism is that a solution should also be offered. If you are compelled to do so, please write and voice your opinion but also be sure to provide your suggestion for a remedy.

 

* * * * *

 

This is a halcyon time for the sport of cycling in Australia and yet not enough is being done to entice cycling enthusiasts to become members of Cycling Australia.

In recent times there have been numerous opportunities that were ripe for the promotion of cycling and yet the approach by CA has failed to capitalise on what is presented.

There’s always more to say about cycling – and that’s a good thing for a publisher of a cycling magazine. For now, however, I’ll stop my commentary before highlighting any individual instances of the broader concepts raised in this Open Letter and ask the other stakeholders – the participants, the fans, the media, the sponsors, the administrators, etc – are you satisfied with Cycling Australia’s performance?

 

Yours in frustration,

 

 

Rob Arnold

Publisher, RIDE Media

 

 

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