Yesterday the AOC announced that it would not send a team to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, in the hope that the IOC will commit to a postponement to 2021. Today, the Australian Cycling Team’s high-performance director, Simon Jones, offered his evaluation…
When the focus of the national cycling team’s high-performance unit is the Olympic Games, it is natural that the man in charge of the program would be subjected to a series of questions. For the second time in five days, Simon Jones hosted a small online media conference to offer his thoughts.
Other sports have had to take dramatic action in how they respond to the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic; the AFL and NRL not only suspended their seasons, there was also immediate action in relation to employment in those football codes. So, does the news from yesterday influence funding for Australian cycling’s high-performance program?
“The vast majority [of funding] that we get from a high-performance perspective, comes from the government,” said Simon Jones when asked by RIDE Media if redundancies were necessary because of the “pause” in the Australian Cycling Team’s Olympic aspirations.
He noted that it was too early to know what impact it would have because many aspects of government are “uncertain at the moment”.
Another talking point is that a staff member for the Australian team was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.
There has been a rush of difficult news in recent days, but Jones was able to explain one element of good news –and it relates to the staff member who had fallen ill.
“He’s out of hospital, making good recovery, feeling a lot better. That’s the summary,” Jones explained on Tuesday 24 March, six days after the news was issued about the positive test for the virus.
“That’s a big relief to all of us. And all other tests that we had done, as a precaution, have all returned negative. That was a bit of good news in amongst the bad news.”
Jones admitted that he had a difficult night after hearing about the AOC’s decision for 2020 but, after a good night’s rest, his mood had improved and he was trying to see the good from the situation.
“The first thing for us is to absorb this and then we can plan,” he said. “We’ll start planning for what we believe will be a summer 2021 Games.”
At the end of the media call, RIDE Media asked for a comment from Jones on the recent track cycling world championships – possibly the last international racing we will see for a few months – and the HPD offered a brief appraisal, while also pointing out that the focus of today’s exchange related to the impact of the pandemic and the Olympics.
Below are the three questions RIDE Media asked about those topics and the verbatim responses of Simon Jones…
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RIDE Media: Yesterday when the AOC made its announcement, someone asked if it might have been a “sense of relief”. When something you’ve been working towards is postponed, it would be a rush of emotions. But is there a sense of relief in the sense that a decision, perhaps, is better than indecision?
“I think you’re right.
“We had put in place, because of the virus, some quite extreme social distancing measures. We restructured the track. We’d been emailing people about how to not just train but operate and adhere to the rules which the government has been publishing.
“So, there’s a lot of constraints on training and I think the decision is right from the AOC; it’s a big call, but I do think it puts the safety and the health of the athletes and the staff as the number-one priority.
“It would have gotten increasingly difficult to train.
“If we take a global view on this, if you think about what other nations are having to try to do to train – as you’ve probably been following – there are some pretty extreme things people are doing to try and keep fit.
“So, you’re right, there is a small sense of relief that a decision has been made.
“And I think with the priority being on safety and health, which has got to be the number-one thing at the moment.”
RIDE Media: As a follow-on to that… when we first met years ago, Simon, you talked about perhaps trying to utilise some of the knowledge that you have procured and sharing that with the broader cycling community… with the pause in the Olympic focus, is it an opportunity to perhaps start issuing some of the tricks of the trade, without going into too much of the detail, so that the broader cycling community can benefit from it? By that, I guess, you’ve got a case COVID-19 in your ranks, and you’ve learned from that experience; is there anything that you can share based on what you’ve learned this year?
“It’s funny. We were planning for contingencies if the Games were cancelled anyway. We’d already had those conversations.
“One of the things that came out from the coaches was having a ‘Community Impact’.
“Obviously, those were just ideas last week. Now it’s reality.
“I know (Cycling Australia CEO) Steve Drake and Kipp (Kaufmann, CA’s general manager of sport) have started to put together a plan where we can shift our focus now and disseminate appropriate information.
“Obviously, not everything we do is appropriate – or required – and there are a whole number of ideas of how we could engage and, I guess, communicate in a much broader sense while there is a bit of time.
“Yeah, that is the plan.”
RIDE Media: Yesterday the AFL basically told the majority of staff associated with their code that they could take long leave. The NRL has done a similar action. Are there redundancies taking place [in the Australian Cycling Team]? A lot of people in Australia are losing their jobs this week. Is there any direct action based on the AOC’s decision yesterday?
“I think it’s too early to say but obviously we have to look at all the options.
“Obviously we do need money and investment which, the vast majority that we get from a high-performance perspective, comes from the government, which is uncertain at the moment.
“What we do know [is that] our funding was committed for this year… and I don’t think we need to make rash and quick decisions on that.
“We’ll go through a process of evaluating our position and making decisions based off of that.”