The disconnect with Cycling Australia
For many involved with cycling in Australia there are frustrations with how the sport is being managed. The first step in finding a solution is to acknowledge that a problem exists.
– By Rob Arnold
There are several themes that need to be raised about the administration of cycling in Australia. At the core of this commentary is recognition of issues that have hindered the development of “our” sport at a time it should be prospering.
Let’s stop with the soft-pedalling through a topic that needs to be discussed. Let’s open our lungs and say what needs to be said: Cycling Australia, do something!
The time has come for the broader cycling community to let Cycling Australia (CA) know that we love our sport and want it to be successful. Despite the rhetoric suggesting that the health of the federation is improving, there is a massive disconnect between the administrators and its membership.
Cycling is on the brink. If managed well, it will prosper. If it continues on its current trajectory it risks fading into oblivion, swamped by other dynamic sports which are vying for attention, participants and, of course, funding.
In cycling, there are three primary sources of income: membership, government grants, and sponsorship. (There are times when crowd funding applies – ie. when fans pay to watch a race – but that revenue is negligible.)
- To lure in members, the packages offered have to be seen as offering value.
- To attract government investment, the sport needs to be prosperous.
- To generate sponsorship, there needs to be publicity.
CA has shown itself to be incapable of properly tapping into each of the three tiers of funding.
- Members are confused about the return on their investment: “License fees alone are destroying accessibility and growth.” “How do they justify charging club level riders $377 per licence, with no disclosure of where money goes…?”
- The government is uncertain about the yield it gets from its significant spend with the federation – and tax payers deserve an explanation of what investment is allocated where, and why.
- Publicity needs to be earned; relationships with all forms of media have to be managed correctly to achieve positive outcomes.
There is interest in cycling. The success of events in Australia in recent times has demonstrated what is possible with some innovation. But when CA is concerned, the initiatives are lacking many requisite elements. Even with investment from members, government and sponsors, the return is not what it ought to be.
Instead, what we see is more of the same: poor communication, high membership fees, a continued focus on high performance (often to the detriment of other things that the administrators should be managing) and, in some cases, such frustration from some stakeholders that they ultimately opt to turn their back on something they were once passionate about.
The Rio Olympics provided an awakening: it served as a catalyst to recognise that there is a lot more to our sport than performances by elite athletes. The current system is not working – and that’s not purely a reference to results. When so much of CA’s resources are centred around the quest for Olympic success, a positive flow-on effect should be part of the quadrennial cycle.
Following an event that saps so much from the public purse, there should be a significant spike in membership, interest and participation. But there’s nothing to suggest this is happening.
The overwhelming response I received to an ‘Open Letter to Cycling Australia’ in October last year was strong enough for me to be sure about one thing: I’m not alone in my frustration.
There was a chorus of malcontent: people called and wrote to vent their frustrations. Some offered examples of wrongdoing, others voiced concerns about particular policies, some explained why it is that they feel misrepresented or, in many cases, quite simply ripped off. There was a collective gnashing of teeth and a strong reaction by frustrated cyclists.
A lot of positive feedback was also offered and some proposed initiatives had genuine merit. The response and subsequent commentary should have served CA well. Some suggestions provided a catalyst for improvement or, at the very least, a rethink on some policies which have become particularly staid.
But offence was taken and the Open Letter was labelled a “smear campaign” by the administrators and Cycling Australia chose to ignore the sentiment raised. (Curiously many of the points raised turned up in the opening statements by Mr Bracks on the day his appointment as CA president was announced, so either he was paying attention to what was written or he too agreed with much of the sentiment.)
Instead of seeking change, CA continues to perpetuate the Olympic myth.
It seems that the aim is to blunder along towards 2020 in the hope that a few gold medals in Tokyo will suddenly deliver cycling back into the broader public consciousness and then – ta dah! – after a few podium appearances in Japan everything that’s wrong will be right again.
To do that, they tell us, they’ve got to invest. And to invest, they need funding. And to get funding, they’ve got to adhere to the whims of the government that holds the purse strings.
CA has become so accustomed to surviving on grants from the ASC that it has neglected the other potential revenue streams, primarily its membership.
What it should be doing is managing all three tiers of income and creating the requisite outcomes to ensure ongoing prosperity: nurture the membership, give a return to government investment, and provide sponsors with exposure!
There’s a new CEO of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in 2017 and yet there’s been no public call for policy change or even a mild recognition that the so-called ‘Winning Edge’ strategy failed to deliver on its promise. Never mind how misguided it was upon inception as that’s another story…
Kate Palmer, hear this plea: we need proper consultation and an understanding of what is required from federal funding for sport. And it shouldn’t only be about gold medals or adhering to the whims of the IOC. It should be about nurturing the grassroots, recognition of the benefits of exercise, inspiring people to be active and participate in sport and, subsequently, reap the rewards.
Now is the time for CA to take a stand, to listen to the calls from many of its members and to tap into the glut of interest that exists. It’s time to inspire a new generation of cyclists with the possibilities that are available if they ride a bike.
There is funding available but it’s currently misdirected and offers minimal benefit for the broader collective of cyclists. The high performance program is one aspect of CA’s charter but it shouldn’t be the only priority.
There has been significant change in recent months but going on the current trajectory, there’ll be minimal impact. Old habits, it would seem, die hard.
We’ll be told that there is new infrastructure, there is a new president, there is a new high performance manager, there are new coaches, there are new membership packages, there are new initiatives, there is a new media accord… there is momentum and that the debt is being managed.
When we ask about the funding models and CA’s accountability, however, we’ll be told that “all agreements, they are commercial in confidence”. And there’ll be denial about the plight of the federation.
When we ask what return there is for members on their licence fee, we’ll be told about insurance benefits and the glory that awaits in Tokyo.
The federation continues to be propped up with support of grants, interest free loans, investment from smaller federations and clubs filled with passionate membership. And CA continues to tell us that, in due course, we’ll all be able to race (or ride) our bikes with an appropriate level of support.
But the crucial question that needs answering is: Why are we waiting?
– By Rob Arnold