Phill Bates recently applied for the position of CEO of Cycling NSW. It is hard to think of anyone more qualified for the role but he’s been overlooked during the hunt to fill that position.
There are few people in Australia who understand cycling as intimately as Phill Bates. He has been a race promoter, club president, lobbyist, bike shop owner, and fulfilled many other duties over the years. Throughout his 50-odd years of involvement in the sport he has introduced many to the beauty of cycling.
A high ranking official heard that he applied for the role of CEO at Cycling NSW and “told others not to apply” as it seemed obvious that Bates should be appointed to that position. But, it would seem, the recruitment agency’s client, Cycling NSW, doesn’t agree with that appraisal… he wasn’t given a second interview.
We take a moment to find out more about the application process and what Bates thinks of the decision to overlook him for a role that many believed he would be ideal for.
Phill Bates has been a pivotal figure in Australian cycling at a time of enormous change for the sport. He would be an asset to a federation like Cycling NSW.
RIDE: You have been known as ‘Mr Cycling’ but it appears that you may now be the ‘forgotten man’ given the decision not to even grant you a second interview for the CEO position at Cycling NSW…
Phill Bates: “I’d like to think I’ve not been forgotten but I am totally gutted.
“You’d think that someone who has devoted his life to the sport, staged the biggest events of their time, spent 18 years on the board of Cycling NSW, nine years with CA board, and eight years on the UCI track commission that you would at least warrant an interview. But evidently not…”
After all you have done for the sport, I wonder: why did you apply for the job? Isn’t it time for a little hiatus and some time for yourself?
“As I said in my application, my hope was ‘To improve the promotion, marketing and image of cycling in NSW’. I have a wealth of knowledge and considerable experience in sports administration and promotion; not only sport but, more specifically, cycling. I’ve done this for well over 40 years and have a history and experience that should at least be considered when arranging interviews for a position such as CEO of Cycling NSW.
“I have been increasingly frustrated with the lack of events in this state, and the way Cycling NSW has been heading. In the 50 years that I have been involved, not once have I been paid by a cycling body for my services and thought – after all these years – I’d put myself up for consideration. I think I deserve the opportunity.”
I’ve known you for a long time and recently read your résumé; it’s staggering to think that you were not considered as one of the top candidates. It strikes me as odd that they could ignore your application.
“I would hope to think this was not the case but perhaps they took exception to my honesty and my appraisal of the plight of cycling administration in recent times.
“I should note that I was initially interviewed by Leeanne Grantham, a member of the CA board and [consultant for]* a recruitment agency who was hired to recruit people for the NSW job.
“I had been critical of the appointment of Simon Jones as High Performance Manager of CA and now find out that it was indeed Leeanne Grantham was involved with his appointment.
“I also was also not in favour of the unified, so-called ‘One Federation’ policy that’s been tossed around as a concept lately. From my understanding this angle has been pushed by Leeanne and others and it would [result in] state federations essentially being rolled into CA coffers. Perhaps that was also a telling point, but I’m not certain.”
When did you find out that you were not getting another interview?
“The last thing Leeaane had said was: ‘Keep the 27-29 March free’. Then, last Friday, Graham Seers, one of the St George club’s former Olympians, contacted me from his current base in Malaysia to see if I could be a referee as he had been awarded an interview [for the CEO position at NSW Cycling].
“After two days of nothing, I sent a text to Glenn Vigar, the acting CEO, on Sunday to see if I had an interview. I heard nothing until Peter Beaumont, the president of NSW Cycling, contacted me that night to advise that I did ‘not tick all the boxes’ and was not successful.”
What do you mean: you did not tick all of the boxes?
“It is the reference that the president made to me in the telephone conversation.
“I just wonder how the other people, those who have been granted an interview, had responded to the questions better than I. It’ll certainly be interesting to find out who the other candidates are. Even before seeing their names, I’m confident in saying that I’d be more qualified.
“The first question of the interview process was: ‘What knowledge and or interest do you have in the sport of cycling?’
“I had replied: ‘Immense knowledge – as a cyclist, a coach, an administrator, a promoter, a shop owner, a mentor, a board member… at all levels of the sport’.”
“The second question was: ‘What three skills would you draw on most to be successful in this role to strengthen Cycling NSW’s position and reputation?’ I’ll just read you my reply to that:
- Ability to communicate with politicians, government and agencies to maximise the potential support and income for Cycling NSW.
- Ability to maximise sponsorship opportunities and promotion.
- Experience in staging major events in a cost-effective manner that will have a lasting legacy for the sport.
“If you ask me, that seems like a good start to righting the ship…”
Yes. All that seems appropriate. Is there anything else readers may be interested in about the interview process you went through?
“I was asked to outline two key things you believe are major challenges confronting Cycling NSW. It’s a good question and I thought my answer seemed appropriate – certainly relevant and worth reading again. This is what I responded with:
- Reinvigorating major events – both track and road to ensure far greater participation by sponsors, media, cyclists and spectators.
- Vastly grow the entry level of competitors into the sport.
“You know cycling. Isn’t this a reflection of what’s required from the sport’s administrators?”
Again, it seems correct to me… but I’m not on the interview panel. Let’s consider your contributions to cycling while we’re doing an overview of Phill Bates… you are perhaps best known for an event that shaped the future of cycling in Australia, the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic. How did you make this event so big and special at the time?
“With a lot of hard work and commitment and wonderful support from volunteers that I was able to entice to become involved in the event.
“The ‘Bank Race’ lasted 19 years it was an incredible event and, even without government support, it grew the budget to more than two million dollars per year. The race attracted the greatest amateur cyclists from around the globe elevating it to one of the top four amateur stage races in the world.
“It was an enormous event for the promotion of the sport and some years generated more than 36 hours of national television coverage across all networks and more than five hours coverage to 143 countries.
“I was responsible for the traffic management plans, support of local councils, sponsor liaison, advertising, event coordination and packaging of the television. From 1996, it became a professional race and once again attracted many global stars of the sport and, if you ask me, it acted as a springboard for what the Tour Down Under has become today.”
It also helped many people get into the sport of cycling, including me…
“I have been amazed at how you progressed RIDE magazine. I also got quite emotional recently when Phil Latz, the founder of Bicycling Australia magazine, said he would not have survived with his business had it not been for the support of the ‘Bank Race’.”
We worked together in the early-1990s when you were appointed to a new structure at the UCI, what was it called? The track commission? Can you remind me again how all that came about?
“The UCI was looking to reshape track cycling and appointed four people from various backgrounds and geographic locations to revamp the sport. It was a great challenge to change the mindset of Europeans, eradicate some traditional events and move towards the World Cup structure that currently exists.
“I was pleased with my term from 1993 to 2001, adding four events to the Olympic program on the track in 2000 as well as the scratch race to the world title program and the qualification process that exists today.
“I was also the chairman of the Australian track commission for 16 years and it was good to keep everyone abreast of the changes in the sport.”
These days there’s a lot of talk about expanding the women’s racing calendar. You have had a long association with the women’s peloton and helped grow the sport significantly at the of the 1990s. What do you remember about that period?
“I wanted to give women equal rights to men’s racing and initially staged the White Pages Tour in the mid-1990s; it was a four-day event from Bundanoon to Canberra staged for men and women.
“It proved very successful and then progressed to staging the internationally acclaimed Tour de Snowy – a six-day women’s event in 1998. It was staged to help promote Thredbo and safe roads following the horrific landslide in 1997 and I worked with Government and the Snowy Hydro to stage the event.
“All this also coincided with the UCI’s vision for a women’s World Cup. I staged this at Centennial Parklands mid-week before a massive crowd and had 120 international riders compete in both the World Cup and Tour de Snowy. We produced half-hour daily programs on the race at 6.00pm each night on SBS and pay television, with some of the criteriums staged with live television.”
It was a great time for women’s cycling and provided a great chance for riders like Anna Wilson, Petra Rossner, and Judith Arndt to showcase their talents. Good times. Ah… why did it end?
“I staged five World Cups in total, including three in Canberra on the foreshore of the lake not far from the city centre, as well as the Tour de Snowy but Victoria, with support from the state government’s coffers, offered much bigger money and snavelled the event in 2003. That was all part of a plot that would eventually win the opportunity to stage a very successful world championships in Geelong in 2010.
“From little things big things grew and many of the internationals believed the Tour de Snowy was the best stage race on the women’s calendar.”
It’s difficult to believe that this alone didn’t endear you with Grantham and the recruitment agency but, while we’re at it, should we also look at a few of the other things you’ve been involved with over the years?
“How long have you got?”
Okay, we can’t list them all but let’s at least consider a few and agree to go on the record for one of my ‘Talking Cycling’ episodes sometime soon… But let’s paraphrase a little by starting with your association with the St George club – that’s an institution in Australian cycling, isn’t it?
“I basically have been a member of the St George club all my life, through my parents’ involvement – my father, Ron, was the club president and a life member. I later got involved as an executive member in 1967, as publicity officer.
“I was racing but saw the need to gain weekly coverage for the club with the local Leader newspaper that was always very supportive. That’s when I began to understand the value of the media and the impact it could have on cycling… and that’s another story with many tangents.
“For now, let’s go back to the story of the club…
“I had the pleasure of coaching Gary Sutton to his first national title in 1971 and, as well as that, many more cyclists who achieved Olympic and Commonwealth Games selection, but I had problems in juggling coaching and administration.
“It was basically a club team that I trained that won the national teams pursuit title and Commonwealth Games gold medal in 1978.
“I became assistant secretary of the NSW federation in 1974 but still was the driving force at the club and witnessed some outstanding success stories.
“I have been President of St George for 25 years and am proud to state that no Australian team has ventured to Olympic or Commonwealth Games without a member of our club since 1956! This year’s Commonwealth Games team has three riders from St George: Nic Yallouris, Kaarle McCulloch and Ashlee Ankudinoff, all have won world titles and they are the only three riders from NSW.
“I still enjoy running the racing, doing the results, stories, taking photos and commentating when needed.”
It is indeed a life of cycling. I’ve enjoyed being a small part of that ride. It strikes me as odd that you have been overlooked for the position of CEO and it’ll be interesting to find out who the candidates are. Thanks for taking the time to offer a little overview and I look forward to putting you in front of the camera sometime soon – and to keep telling some of the stories you’ve collected over the years.
“Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about cycling. As you know, I’ve got a lot to say on the topic.”
Indeed. To be continued. Thanks.
“Cheers Rob. Let’s talk again soon.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
*Bates had originally stated that Grantham was the “owner” of the recruitment agency.