At a time when cycling is attracting attention from a large, enthusiastic market of people who are keen to rediscover the good that comes from riding a bike, how does the sport’s governing body in Australia respond? With staff sackings then silence.
An email titled ‘Australian Cycling Team Restructure’ was never going to contain good news. It arrived last Thursday and, as has been the case for over 20 years, I then started to receive a steady flow of follow-up correspondence from people who have links with the sport.
At a time like this, when the streets are – for a strange, brief period at least – relatively free of traffic and bike sales are booming, the temptation is to ignore the usual shenanigans that come from Cycling Australia and its proxy ‘side project’, the Australian Cycling Team.
Although this off-shoot was launched in 2017 with big intentions and bold statements about “inspiring a nation to ride”, it has often missed the mark. This is indeed a time when resources could be temporarily redirected, as it was suggested in March, away from the high-performance objectives and towards growing the membership base.
Instead what we get is another bad news item, disgruntled ex-staff, no adequate explanation of the changes, and no names of the people affected by the redundancies. When CA’s media officer was asked for more details, the response was prompt but vague.
“To respect the privacy of the impacted individuals, CA has decided not to name them publicly,” is the reply to a query about which staff members were leaving the team.
The note concluded: “I hope you understand.”
“No,” I replied, “I don’t understand. There are staffing changes to the national cycling program. I am hearing [stories to] suggest the process hasn’t been terribly well executed and there is more correspondence forthcoming that highlights the rank lack of communication since the Berlin campaign.”
Text messages and emails continue to arrive from people associated with the team and RIDE Media was encouraged to pursue the story, but no one was willing to go on the record. When there’s a chance of missing out on a place in the national team for an Olympic campaign, it’s necessary to be cautious. Speak out and you jeopardise your involvement. And so, athletes and coaches alike remained silent, for a few days at least.
“At a time when cycling could indeed prosper,” concluded my reply to CA’s media officer, “the reports I’m receiving out of the Australian Cycling Team are far from encouraging.”
Caitlin Ward spoke up about CA antics eight days before the release about seven staff from the Australian Cycling Team “leaving the team, and a further four staff members being offered refocused roles”.
“I won a bronze medal, came home from @uciworldcupaus, broke my elbow within 12 hrs of returning and within 24hrs got told that I was probably being dropped,” wrote Ward in a long Instagram post (below).
“I was asked if I ‘even wanted to ride bikes’, it was insinuated AND THEN SAID that I was at the age to have babies…”
On 6 May, Ward explained, she “received the phone call all athletes fear – the ‘your cut’ phone call. To be fair though,” wrote Ward, “they used to just dump you via email, so they are improving.”
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What a Wednesday 🤷♀️ . . I won a bronze medal, came home from @uciworldcupaus, broke my elbow within 12 hrs of returning and within 24hrs got told that I was probably being dropped 🤷♀️ 5.5 weeks was left between the initial comments and targets been given. 5.5 weeks is a long time for anxiety, depression and loss of self worth to simmer. I was asked if I ‘even wanted to ride bikes’, it was insinuated AND THEN SAID that I was at the age to have babies… (Yeap.. my inner feminist flipped as well). . . Eventually, I was given until nationals, had some targets to hit and we all pretended that I hadn’t broken my elbow and my ovaries weren’t going to waste away lol. . COVID-19 happened, nationals was cancelled and here we are 5 months later with no further comments or discussion on my time line: and then today I received the phone call all athletes fear – the ‘your cut’ phone call. To be fair though, they used to just dump you via email, so they are improving 👏🏻. . I am gutted, destroyed, devastated, broken and totally shattered that an organization can make my sport – my passion and the love of my life – screw me over, Again. Thing is though, these people don’t even know ME – I have been hit time and time again for 10 years. I keep coming back. I am tough. I am resilient. For goodness sakes I had 250kg crush my leg and I came back. Cycling Australia and their antics pushed me mentally to the edge. And I came back. I get to say when it is over. And for the first time I am writing this for me and my teammates I have watched them do this too to – it is time I stop being scared of the repercussions of the truth because I am not protecting ‘them’. My truth and my feelings are my right to share. Therefore if I stick to the facts then I am just sharing what we ALL should have felt we could share from the start. Today – on a day our prime minister addressed the country on mental health in this current climate the powers that be at Cycling Australia thought it was a good opportunity to make a loyal athlete feel that they didn’t amount to anything. Today, I get to say – you’re wrong. Watch me fly. Photo-argon18
When contacted by RIDE Media for comment, Ward kindly explained that she was focussing on her studies and some upcoming exams and that she would be in contact to explain more once that was complete.
Ward’s Instagram post spells out her frustrations. “Cycling Australia and their antics pushed me mentally to the edge… it is time I stop being scared of the repercussions of the truth because I am not protecting ‘them’.”
It takes courage to speak up against the team you were part of only a few weeks earlier, but Ward took the plunge before focussing on her exams. Before signing off, however, she explained how the actions of the federation have affected her.
“On a day our prime minister addressed the country on mental health in this current climate the powers that be at Cycling Australia thought it was a good opportunity to make a loyal athlete feel that they didn’t amount to anything.”
Eight days after Ward published her note, the Australian Cycling Team attempted to explain staffing changes in a media release, quoting Simon Jones and CA’s CEO Steve Drake but offering no names and no further details. And Cycling Australia, who manages media for both CA and the Australian Cycling Team, said it needed to respect “the privacy of the impacted individuals”.
The discontent didn’t just vanish. Yesterday one of the staff members affected by the “restructure” explained his predicament.
“CA’s latest restructure has sadly rendered myself and my partner Bernie victims of redundancy, effective immediately,” wrote Ross Edgar, a coach with the Australian Cycling Team for almost three years.
“No consultation, no compensation, no remorse.
“This gives us 60 days to leave Australia, well 57 now, with our four-month-old baby boy in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Thank you Simon!”
– Ross Edgar’s complete statement (17 May 2020) –
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If you are new to cycling because you’re looking for exercise and something to do when so many restrictions are in place, enjoy the experience. There’s a lot of good that can come from riding a bike and you should be encouraged by your early taste of this fantastic activity.
It may start with a trip to work or school, but bike riding can be a lot more than that. There is an amazing sporting aspect with a huge variety of options and something to suit almost everyone.
There is a network of enthusiastic people involved and there’s a lot to like. There are inspirational athletes, caring coaches, and a community of likeminded people who all want cycling to prosper. Alas, there’s also a toxic culture in the management of the Australian Cycling Team and it continues to do damage when it should be nurturing the glut of talent that exists in this country, providing pathways and opportunity for those who want to ride, and relishing the interest that has been generated in recent weeks.
– By Rob Arnold