Sunday, 25 June 2017

CLASH OF THE CENTURY - British Cycling EGM V Le Tour

HOW do we alert British Cycling’s 133,000 membership to a great wrong to be committed in their name at July’s Extraordinary General Meeting? The warning came first from two former top British Cycling executives earlier this month and has since been taken up by various Regional officials.

Strangely, the EGM is timed at the height of summer holiday season when it is likely many members will be on  holiday, not to mention it also clashes with something else that weekend,  the final weekend of the Tour de France.

At stake, I understand, is the memberships’ democratic right to hold the Board to account if the balance of power shifts from National Council to the Board.

The EGM is to approve UK Sport’s new code of governance which is being rushed out and, in cycling’s case, with too little time for informed discussion. The new code is being applied to all Olympic sports. 

For British Cycling this means changing the constitution and the makeup of the Board, to make everyone more accountable in the aftermath of the scandal of sexism and bullying of top riders which rocked the sport last year, 

BC will be required to show they are operating a duty of care  to all their elite riders and staff, especially those under pressure, striving to push the boundaries of physical and mental endeavour in the quest to satisfy British Cycling’s and UK Sport’s “results driven ethic” - as one newspaper writer has called it. 

However, those who read between the lines say this is all very well, but it comes with a cost.  If all the pieces of UK Sports jigsaw fall into place, National Council - the voice of the rank and file members– will have been muted, perhaps silenced for the first time in 60 years.

Concerns over local racing, the bread and butter events of the rank and file, may go unheeded, especially if the four new “independent” board members have little knowledge of grass roots sport and have undue influence.  The hope has to be they are cyclists, not government puppets.

Clearly,   BC is under a lot of pressure from UK Sport and Sport England who provide them £millions in funding.

And the pressure was turned up high once again  last week when the Independent Review Panel’s final and damning report on British Cycling was published  - a whitewash many call it, because it’s a toned down version of the early draft leaked a few months before.

Nevertheless, its publication means cycling’s dirty washing was  once again on display, reminding us all of how the most successful British Olympic sport this Millennium  became the laughing stock of the nation,  the subject of an MP’s enquiry into bullying and sexism and a culture of fear at the National governing body.

And now there are calls for the board to be sacked, for the chairman to stand down.

There are so many threads to this story, perhaps none more important than this. It is understand BC knew  of such issues five years ago, revealed in the King Report of 2012. But did nothing about them.  This was on Brian Cookson’s watch, who was then president and is now UCI chief. 

Peter King, CBE, the former CEO, had been commissioned to carry out an internal review by the man who succeeded him as chief executive, Ian Drake who resigned earlier this year.

King interviewed 40 personnel on an agreement of anonymity.

The story goes that only two, perhaps three people at BC saw the full King report.   And they were so shocked by it they sat on it, covered it up. The full contents were never fully shared with others on the board. 
Even UK Sport were only shown a watered down version of the report when it was published in 2016.

It is this torrid complicated affair which has led UK Sport to call for stricter controls at BC.

And this brings us back to what this  may mean for the rank and file.  Why, in order to address these concerns, should it be necessary to strip away the fundamental right of members to have their say at National Council?  

The worry, says a former top BC executive, is that members will only read BC’s happy clappy presentation of the proposals before them, and will not see the hidden cost to them!

Although most of the proposals appear sensible in principle, the Devil is in the detail, say critics.  For instance, it is feared less attention will be paid to grass roots racing as more emphasis is placed on elite competition, something BC deny.

Members are urged to attend their local Regional meetings over the coming few weeks, in order to decide how to mandate their representatives to vote at the EGM on Saturday, July 22. 

The hope is that the active members of the Regions, those that sit on the boards and committees, get to grips with this before the EGM meeting where the vote will be taken.

One Regional official said that a constitutional change will require a two thirds majority to pass. So it’s by no means certain the vote will go the Board’s way. 

The BC South East Regional Meeting is on July 10, to discuss the agenda of the EGM and to mandate their National Councillors to vote the way the members have chosen).

BC top brass: ‘all will be well’

British Cycling President Bob Howden promises all will be well, that the changes will benefit all, from elite to grass roots.  

Here’s Bob, quoted from BC’s website:

These changes to our constitution are necessary and timely. Every member of the National Council is intent on making British Cycling a world-class governing body. It is our belief that by ensuring that our organisation has professional, balanced governance, the whole of our sport will benefit – from the grassroots to the podium.”

And here’s BC Chairman Jonathan Browning, who similarly reassures members that the sport will see improved benefits:

“Since becoming Chair in February, we have quickly steered through widespread changes to British Cycling’s leadership and governance, some of which still require final approval at our EGM on 22 July. Our proposals to alter the Board and the recruitment of new senior executives, demonstrates our commitment to professionalise and significantly improve the governance, transparency and strength of our sport – for the good of all involved.”

 Regional critics:  members will quit

However, in the Regions the feeling is that EGM could spell disaster for the sport.

Here’s what they are saying:

*Looks as if the needs of grass roots are a very much lower priority. 

*We cannot trust the BC members on the Board so what confidence will we have if the Board is effectively controlled by the Independent members.

*Forecast:  mass migration to other cycling organisations …a disaster as loss of grass root members will affect the funding of the Elite Riders and we all want our international success to long continue.

*Remember, the Surrey League opted out of BC control for a period number of years ago.

*Solution?: British Cycling split into two, the present Board with overall control but with a sub organisation driven by the members who will complete control of the grass roots sport. 

*The board are the biggest part of the problem.

*Complete lack of transparency, poor communication.

The clash: EGM V Le Tour

Who worked that out? Yes, JULY 22, the day of the EGM is also the final weekend of Le Tour. The EGM is in Warrington on the same day as the penultimate stage of the Tour de France in Marseille. This is a time trial which a certain triple British Tour winner, Chris Froome will be hoping to win. It which almost certainly decide the overall outcome in Paris the following day. 

Where to go? Warrington versus Marseille/Paris? 

Clearly, Regional Officers with a conscious will be wrestling with that one. But those with holidays booked, what do they do? Pull out of the family holiday?

Would the Football Association schedule an EGM on the same day as the FA Cup final? Or on the day England (a dream) were playing in the final of the World Cup?

I mean, what was BC thinking? Perhaps they mean to hire a big screen for the afternoon's live broadcast of the TT and hold the EGM in the evening.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

POWER struggle at British Cycling threatens members' rights

TWO former high-ranking officials of British Cycling have expressed their concern that the balance of power will shift from National Council to the Board if draft proposals designed to appease the government are approved at a hastily arranged Extraordinary General Meeting scheduled for July 22.   The England Regions with by far the largest share of membership stand to lose out the most.

It is feared that the new look Board will allow government to exert greater influence on the sport. And that the Board may no longer be answerable to the 125,000 strong membership represented by National Council, an historic right of this membership organisation.

At present HQ representatives are touring the Regions to outline details of the draft proposals. This is to enable members to mandate their representatives on how to vote at the EGM.

It is vital the membership insist that capable cycling officials are elected to that Board, say my two sources. 

But the response from members was poor at the South Region meeting last month, with only six people out of a membership of 11,000 turning out.

I understand that a cycling media reporter  was denied sight of the proposals when he asked BC HQ for a copy.  Which begs the question what are they afraid of?

Is this the fallout from last years’ bad press and the grilling by a Parliamentary committee which made Britain’s number one Olympic Sport a laughing stock?  

There was the furore in the Press over the legally permitted use of an otherwise banned powerful drug by Bradley Wiggins for his breathing allergies just before three of his Tour de France starts - including the historic 2012 edition which he famously won.

It was established this was legal. But was it ethical?  Given Sky’s oft repeated mantra that they do it clean, they only had themselves to blame for the public interest in this story. 

There followed more angst  when suspicion was raised – in the Daily (Hate) Mail -  casting aspersions on the contents of a jiffy bag flown from BC headquarters in Manchester to Team Sky in France. UK Anti-Doping began to investigate “possible wrong doing”.

BC officials appearing before the Parliamentary Committee pleaded that they were bound by confidentiality not to reveal the jiffy bag’s contents. But this only further heightened suspicion.   Finally Team Sky revealed that the contents were an over the counter medicine for Wiggins’ allergies.

But when asked for the medical records to support this claim, the MPs learned from BC’s Doctor that his lap top containing the records had been stolen! (Unbelievable)


On top of this, British Cycling were facing accusations of sexism and bullying by a number of leading women internationals, and were finally forced to admit it.

So all in all, a public relations disaster for British Cycling and Team Sky who made things worse by their poor handling of the whole affair.  

So that brings us to the here and now.

The hastily arranged EGM in July appears to have been called to pacify UK Sport and Sport England who not surprisingly want BC to put their house in order if they are  to continue to receive the £millions in annual funding from the public purse.  

However, it is feared the changes called for in the board’s structure will lead to a greater focus on elite cycling and the Olympic medal programme than on development of the grass roots cycling.

Who are my two anonymous sources?  Let’s just say they played a major part in dragging the national governing body out of crisis some 20 years ago, helping to set British Cycling on course to become the most successful UK Olympic sport of the new Millennium.

Here is what they told me:

The current BCF Board and the current Senior Management are fiercely preaching major changes to the make-up and constitution of the BCF.

Regional meetings are currently taking place with the Board advocating the below mantra. All these changes are being introduced to appease both UK Sport & Sport England.

 British Cycling/BCF is a members organisation (currently membership 125,000) and it's objects are 'to promote and control the sport and pastime of cycling in all its forms amongst all sections of the community', 'to support and protect the interests of their members, by all such lawful means as the National Council of the BCF think fit'

The current Board and Leadership just want to secure it's funding from UK Sport to concentrate on its elite programme concentrating on the athletes/coaching at the top of the pyramid.

These are the changes that the Board is rushing through with an EGM taking place on July 22nd:

As it stands, the National Council is the superior democratic body in BC and comprises the elected representatives of the members, through their clubs and up through the elected National Councillors.  In essence, the Board is ultimately answerable to the National Council.  The proposals being advanced by the Board will reverse this relationship.

The proposal to halve the number of National Councillors makes sense to enable better informed discussion – but only if voting rights are removed from Board members.  There is also a discussion being prompted about the rights of Past Presidents to attend and vote at meetings of the National Council.

There is going to be a discussion about imposing terms of office on National Councillors.

The proposed new structure of the Board includes only four members elected by NC but gives Scotland and Wales the right to appoint one Director each.  This is a fudge to get a total of six Board members from the cycling community (out of 12) because UK Sport and Sport England will, apparently, allow us to elect no more than one third of the total. 

What it does do, however, is give the right to elect or appoint one director to Scotland (who have eight percent of the membership) and to Wales (who have five percent) while also allowing both countries to vote for the other four places at National Council – reserving NONE AT ALL FOR THE ENGLAND REGIONS despite England holding 87% of the membership.

  If the sport has to accept this fudge then the least it can do is ensure that only the England Regions are able to vote for the four available positions. 

The President will no longer be a voting member of the Board but will be entitled to attend Board meetings and participate in discussions.  There is an on-going discussion about the term of office of the President.

The Chair will be an independent and appointed position – so as the Chair always has a casting vote the six “cycling” representatives on the Board could, in theory, be out-voted on a contentious issue.

The remaining Board members will be four independent/appointed plus the CEO.

All of the elected directors presently on the Board are due to stand down at this year’s National Council and only George Gilbert can stand for re-election.  This presupposes that Messrs Alasdair Maclennan and Nick Smith will stand down and be appointed by Scotland and Wales respectively.

My other source reiterated what is said above:  

He said the proposals do give cause for alarm and if Regions and Home Countries are to approve them they will need to be clear what they are voting for.  It is true that the balance of power will shift from National Council to the Board – with the members, clubs and Regions only able to elect four of the twelve members of the Board. 

The balance will be somewhat restored by giving Scotland and Wales the right to nominate one Board member each but this may not sit comfortably with the England Regions, given that Scotland accounts for only eight percent of the total BC membership and Wales accounts for just five percent. 

 As it stands, that leaves the England Regions, who together account for 87% of the membership, with no right to directly nominate Board members, while having to stand alongside Scotland and Wales in voting for the four elected members.  It has been suggested that, at the very least, only the England Regions should be entitled to vote in that election.

The CEO will automatically be a member of the Board and the remaining 5 (including the Chair) will all be independent appointments, no doubt all influenced to a greater or lesser degree by UK Sport and/or Sport England.  Given that the Chair will have a casting vote on any contentious issue the balance of power will sit with the independent appointed directors.

Sadly, our status with our funding partners seems to have fallen to the point where we cannot resist in whole or part the conditions they are imposing on us.  At the same time, Rowing have been allowed to re-appoint a Chair who comes from the sport and the Members Council of UK Athletics remains the senior body, to which the Board reports .

There are other things in the proposals to worry about but, at the end of the day, they are likely to be approved because of apathy among members, clubs and regions (only

six attendees at the South Region meeting out of a membership of over 11,000) and the pressure and speed with which this is all planned to be implemented.

Assuming the proposals are approved at the EGM all of the elected members currently on the Board will step down at National Council in November and only George Gilbert can put himself forward for re-election.  It is going to be vitally important that the members/clubs/regions identify and elect form among their number people who know the sport and are prepared to represent them actively and knowledgeably on the Board, even when those representing the cycling family are in a minority.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Cycling 'vision' remains distant dream as government fail to improve funding

The £1.2bn government funding announced last week for their Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) is all smoke and mirrors.

This is the sum offered a year ago when it  was widely criticised as being too little.
Yet this time the cycling campaigners have hardly raised their voices, seemingly resigned to battling on as before, hoping that one day they might at last get  ministers to make up the deficit.
In the meantime, they are praising the government's "vision".

 The £1.2bn is to be spread over five years and includes £800m contributed by Local Authorities - who may or may not pay up because they’ve always blown and hot and cold over cycling.  

This leaves us with the £316m spread over five years which the Department for Transport is putting in. Peanuts. It works out at £65m per annum.

Roger Geffen, Policy Director at Cycling UK, knows the funding is totally inadequate and hints at such on his blog.

Here it is in a nutshell.

Under the title: “Reasons to be positive (despite the funding deficit!)” Geffen admits that many will expect Cycling UK to be “sharply critical” of the government’s £1.2bn funding.

Amazingly, he says they’re not!  And this is why:

He says this is the first time the Government has legally committed to “any kind of multi-year” investment in cycling and walking.

He also lays great store by the government’s “vision” for cycling and walking.

I think he’s just being brave. 

Meanwhile, in Cycling UK’s magazine emailed to members, everything about the Cycling and Walk Strategy is wonderful, there are no negatives, it’s all a brilliant “vision”. Only Geffen gives a hint of the truth. It begs the question, was he being leaned on not to spell out the truth, that the money will simply not deliver the “vision”.  

British Cycling, too, are majoring on the fact that the cycling strategy itself is a very good one. Which it is on paper.  But like Cycling UK, British Cycling plays down the funding deficit which remains exactly as it was when announced a year ago for the Consultation period. Then BC called it “Laughingly low”.

If you expected their policy advisor Chris Boardman to scream blue murder, like he did when Cameron said he wouldn’t provide cabinet backing for cycling, you will be disappointed.

He’s almost mute, as though struck dumb by the utter stupidity of the government not to back a policy which is good for the health of the nation.

You might just catch a sense of disappointment if you read between the lines of what Roger Geffen, Policy Director at Cycling UK, says on the Cycling UK missive emailed members: 

"Cycling UK has spent years campaigning for a strong and well-funded Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, so we’re pleased to see it finally published two years after it was initially announced.  A big ‘thank you’ is due to the DfT officials who have put a huge amount of effort into it.

“Now the hard work begins. With national as well as local elections now looming, Cycling UK will be doing all we can to build the cross-party support needed to strengthen this investment strategy over time, while supporting councils in making best use of the resources available, as they start bringing this vision to life.”

“Strengthen the investment…make best use of the resources available”!!!!

He was more forthright when I called him.

Geffen told me:    “The CWIS contains some really excellent ‘vision’ statements….it’s just a shame the Government’s funding allocations don’t remotely match the fine words.”

He also confirmed what has been known for a number of years, that funding for cycling is to get progressively lower, while funding for roads is to expand by many £billions.

And he reiterated what he told me last year:  “It’s pretty clear that at some stage Government funding for cycling and walking will drop below £1 (per head of population in England) – a tenth of what Goodwill and Cameron both publicly declared as the amount they wanted to make available for cycling alone. “

The desired figure is £10 per head. Anything less and the vision remains a dream.

 Here’s what Chris Boardman said on British Cycling’s website.

 “The first ever cycling and walking investment strategy for England should be a watershed moment for active travel in this country, giving the government a clear leadership role. Andrew Jones and Chris Grayling deserves praise for getting this published and I look forward to working with their Department to hit the targets that have been set,” said Boardman.

"It is not clear, however, how the target to double the number of journeys made by bike will be met with the funding levels set out in the strategy.

“We will be calling on the *chancellor to make the necessary funding, starting at 5% of transport spend, available to local government so that they can invest in truly ambitious plans to a develop world-class cycling infrastructure and networks to meet these targets.

"It is not solely about money, policy initiatives such as updating the Highway Code - as called for by our Turning the Corner campaign - will help to support local infrastructure plans by helping create better bike lanes and safer junctions. This can be started now.”

*Chris, a word in your ear about the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond. He was the guy who, in the newly elected Cameron led government, killed off Cycling England.

Many will surely be puzzled as to why Cycling  UK and British Cycling have rolled over and accepted what was unacceptable to them a year ago.

Then they had urged ministers to reallocate to cycling some of the £15bn  earmarked for the Government's Roads Investment Strategy.  

They wanted £10 per head minimum called, as called for by the APPCG. That means £450m annually for England outside London, or £2.25bn over the five-year period.

However, it should be even more, at least £3bn, and preferably nearer £4bn.

That is the sum needed if investment levels are to rise from an initial starting point of £10 per person for cycling, with enough funding to cover walking as well. Below that level of funding nothing much happens to stimulate cycling.

The government ignored the call. They failed to come up with the cash then and they have failed to do so now.

Funding remains at just over a £1 per head of population, instead of the £10 called for. This is well below what we’ve been told is required to emulate the admired Dutch cycling infrastructure.

I’ll leave you with the government policy statement – their “vision”.

“We want to make cycling and walking the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.

 “The Government wants walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment. As part of our aim to build a society that works for all, we want more people to have access to safe, attractive routes for cycling and walking by 2040.”

The good thing here is that cycling strategy is now officially part of DfT policy, writ large in the annals of transport planning, whereas before it was not.

These are, I believe, important levers put in place before the upcoming election.
Cycling UK and British Cycling pay praise where it is due, thanking

the cycling team in the DfT who worked their magic on the politicians. 
But the spell they cast didn’t extend to squeezing any more money out of them.
The huge deficit which remains for the Cycling and Walking Strategy means it will struggle to get off the drawing board.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

 “British Cycling is sexist” Cooke tells MPs

Former Olympic and World Road Champion  Nicole Cooke has told the Parliamentary inquiry  investigating  “possible wrong doing” in British Cycling that she is sceptical of Team Sky’s explanations for the contents of the Jiffy bag and Wiggins use of TUEs allowing him the use of an otherwise banned drug.

But what shocked MPs was her insistence that British Cycling is sexist, and has always provided a disproportionate amount of support to men than to women.

In so saying, she has re-ignited the embers of the fire British Cycling hoped they had doused last year, when an investigation found ex-British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton guilty of using sexist language towards Olympic team sprinter Jess Varnish.

And it begs the question, are the chickens at last coming home to roost?

For here is the great irony.   When Cooke fulfilled her dream and carried off that historic gold medal in the 2008 Olympic road race at Beijing she had done so in the absence of any cohesive plan for women’s road racing.

 And yet it was this performance which  launched British Cycling on its famous medal winning trajectory at that Olympic Games which has brought cycling £millions in Lottery funding and £millions in Sky  sponsorship. It led to the creation of Team Sky but the there was no such deal for the women, despite the explosion in talent here in the UK

Even BC acknowledged that Cook’s victory in Beijing was down to her own hard work,  enterprise and training perfected over the years, and had very little to do with British Cycling’s still evolving World Class Performance Plan which was designed for  and has underpinned the track team’s successes this Millennium.

For whatever the undoubted merits of the Plan - fashioned around the track because of the greater medal winning opportunities to be had there than on the road - it was nevertheless Cooke’s road victory at Beijing which provided the spark for the British track team’s unprecedented gold medal haul which elevated British Cycling to number 1 UK Olympic sport.

When Cooke gifted British Cycling with a unique double two months later by winning the world road title, the national body once again bathed in reflected glory. 

Now, here we are, more than eight years on, and still women’s road cycling is the poor relation to the men’s.

Cooke’s claims reinforce those already made by the current crop of British internationals - Olympic medallists Lizzie Deignan and Emma Pooley who say the problems go all the way up to the UCI.

Cooke has never been afraid of expressing an opinion, never afraid to mince words with the national body or fellow riders if something irked her.  She was dubbed  “ Her Majesty” by her compatriots!

I recall this self-assured immensely talented 15-year-old schools champion after her victory in Milton Keynes confidently   declare her aim was to win the Olympic title one day.  She knew what she wanted.

She will tell you - is reminding us now - she did it her way because the national body was always more concerned with the men.

British Cycling insists this has changed now. Now they have a strategy to encourage women in the sport.

And they report that in the past seven years 254,000 women have taken up cycling.

British Cycling now has 20,000 female members – up from 3000 in 2008.

They also have 1,100 female coaches.

This is all to the good. But for grass roots to develop they need something to inspire them, which was the story, fed Sky when they first backed British Cycling in 2008 and so Team Sky was born.

British Cycling should show some initiative and twist the arm of their new backers - the bank HSBC – UK - and get them to put in a few £m by sponsoring a British professional women’s road team the equal of the men’s outfit at Sky. 

Until then they do that, the Tour of Britain will remain the torch bearer in the struggle for equality in women’s road cycling.  They had the foresight to introduce a women’s professional Tour of Britain in 2014.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just a jiffy


While browsing in one of London’s temples to cycling excellence – Rapha’s cool cycling shop in the West End – I pondered is this as good it gets?  I don’t mean their coffee, which is excellent. Neither do I mean the smart range of clothing which is very expensive – imagine crashing and writing off such costly kit?

No, it’s the future of the sport I worry about.  More specifically it is the damage done and being done by the Team Sky TUEs and mystery package stories under scrutiny by government and UK anti-doping.

All those wonderful performances by British riders these past 16 years have attracted some two million newcomers to the sport. Now these allegations of “possible wrong doing” have put cycling’s reputation on the line.

On Monday, at the Parliamentary committee enquiry, there came a chance to clear the air.

But the explanations provided by our sport’s big wigs failed to satisfy and they found themselves sinking deeper into the mire.

After 10 weeks of prevarication and two hours of cross examination by the Parliament culture, media and sport select committee, they finally got the answer as to what precisely was in that jiffy bag.   

Suddenly, after a lot of stonewalling, Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford spilt the beans.  It was revealed in a jiffy - if you like!

The contents of the infamous jiffy bag flown out to Team Sky with coach Simon Cope at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine was apparently nothing more terrible than a legal medication called Fluimcil, which is used to rid the airways of mucus. It was for Sir Bradley Wiggins’ use.

And we are all asking ourselves, well, OK, why didn’t you say so before all this shit was kicked up?

They couldn’t, it was claimed, because of medical confidentiality. What?

Or, as the comedian Tony Hancock would be heard to cry when he couldn’t quite believe his ears, “Oh, dear, OH DEAR, oh dearie me.”

After several years of unprecedented success by British cyclists amassing those few dozen gleaming Olympic gold medals, plus the crème de la crème, that historic first Tour victory by a British rider courtesy of Wiggins in 2012, followed by three more Tour victories to revelation Chris Froome, cycling is in the spot light as distinct from the limelight. Cycling is in the dog house.

The Jiffy bag story came about following a Daily Mail allegation a few months ago revealing that a package was delivered to Team Sky in France in June, 2011 and it was claimed that the team official carrying it didn’t know what was in it.

That set tongues wagging. Would you or I accept being asked to carry something through customs if we didn’t know the contents?

That story poured fuel onto the fire already raging over earlier story of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ legal use of a banned steroid in 2011, 2012 and in 2013. 

Eyebrows at UK Anti-Doping were now raised and they launched their investigation into “an allegation of wrong doing in cycling.”

Eventually, Parliament decided to join the party.

This is the Team Sky TUES story, which came to light when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian. They were reacting, it is presumed, in revenge for all the flak hitting Russia over WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) accusations of state controlled doping which led to calls for Russians to be banned from the Olympics. Their message is take a look what’s going on in the rest of world, not just in Russia.

TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take.  

In my view, anyone who needs medicine to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting.

In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance. Wiggins was permitted this drug to treat his breathing allergies, we are told.  So its use was legal. But was it ethical?

Immediately, the news provoked outcry because clearly Team Sky had moved from being whiter that white to being tinged with grey.

The question everyone has been asking is, was it ethical for a team fond of telling the world they ride clean, then to allow the use such a powerful steroid?  

When asked if by taking this drug for his breathing allergies could Wiggin’s performance also have been enhanced when he won the 2012 Tour.  Brailsford said he couldn’t know if it was or it wasn’t.   So that was the first great unknown. And with it came the doubt.

And then along came the second unknown, the Daily Mail story of a jiffy bag flown out to France for Team Sky. What did it contain? No one was saying.  So more suspicion. More doubt.

And then, under pressure from the MPs, Brailsford claims it contained a harmless medicine.

Understandably, he is now being called on to provide independent evidence in support of this claim.

Otherwise this story will run and run.

Especially as the Daily Hate Mail have now got their hooks into Brailsford.

They are alleging that he tried to persuade them not to run story in the first place by offering them another story instead.

Whatever the truth in this, it pains me that it is the Mail putting our sport on the rack. Very clever paper, the Mail, combining good informative features with malicious deceit, such as the grossly exaggerated stories of migrants flooding into Britain which influenced the Brexit vote!

But back to this public relations disaster facing Team Sky and British Cycling.

There can be no doubt that the biggest sports story of the New Millennium, British Cycling’s stupendous rise from nowhere to top UK Olympic sport. And then Team Sky gave us Tour de France champions, all this in one decade. Now it has been overshadowed by – by what exactly?

By allegations of wrong doing but with no actual proof of wrong doing. Certainly Team Sky have spoilt their copybook by allowing a rider legal use of an illegal (in sport) drug. And British Cycling and Team Sky between them have made a mess of their handling of the Jiffy Bag story, giving the impression that they had something to hide?

Yet neither Team Sky nor British Cycling has been found to have broken the rules, no one has failed a dope test.

Brailsford told the committee he is confident that when Ukad report on their findings, it will be clear there has been no wrong doing.

In the meantime, doubt remains.  And doubt – unless cleared up – can be poisonous.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The truth is out there

The only government money provided for cycling has gone to sport, commented Cycling UK’s website recently, but in the recent budget no direct money was announced to make the roads safer for cyclists.

They were referring to the £24m funding to  Yorkshire to host the 2019 World Championships. There is no suggestion that money should have gone instead to a cycling strategy. The sport is welcome to their £24m, which reflects Britain’s new standing in the world of international cycling.  It’s a tidy sum for the World’s organisation to play with, but the fact is,  you wouldn’t get much of a cycle lane out of it!

To fund a decent cycling policy for the UK  needs at least £500m per annum. That’s what is being asked for. It may sound a lot to you and me  but it is only fraction of the £multi Billion transport budget.

But the point Cycling UK were making was that once again, cycling gets no direct funding within the Chancellor’s pledge of £1.1bn to upgrade local roads. They sounded surprised!

Surely, they must know the government’s game by now.  They must know the TRUTH.

Transport is all about cars. Cars win every time. Trains have recently started to get a look-in with increased investment. But cycling has to fight for road space, and here and there is given a bit of cycle lane to go and ride in.

Instead, hard-working campaigners  win our admiration for continuing to build and reinforce the excellent economic case for investment in cycling. Sadly, they are going round and round in circles. They hope that common sense will one day prevail and Britain will get a cycling infrastructure to match the excellent Dutch system.

Pigs might also learn to ride bikes.

The campaigners surely know the bitter truth.  And yet they always feign surprise when cycling is almost completely ignored in each and every budget.

I don’t pretend to know how to change this. But I do feel  that a start could be made by coming clean and telling the growing cycling population  how the odds have always been stacked against a half-decent cycling policy ever getting off the ground in the UK.  

Everyone needs to brush up on their UK transport history.

The current campaign of urging MPs and councillors to back cycling is a waste of time. It will only ever go so far and nowhere near far enough in bringing about the integrated transport system this country lacks.

This is largely because Britain has adopted a car-based policy to allow people the freedom to drive everywhere at any time.  So the very idea of promoting cycling to reduce car dependency is alien to the ideology which under pins transport thinking.

To delve into the transport history you can do no better than read  Christian Wolmar’s recently published book “Are Trams Socialist…Why Britain has no transport policy” (reviewed in my blog May 26 this year).

In this he quotes Nicholas Ridley MP as saying:

“The private motorist wants the chance to live a life that gives him (sic)  a new dimension of freedom – freedom to go where he wants when he wants and for as long as he wants.”

This was the attitude, reinforced by a powerful motoring and roads construction lobby,  which underpinned transport ideology, and still does.

Wolmar tells how, only a few decades ago, in order that people should be able to drive everywhere they want to, there  were  plans to transform our cities with inner urban motorways until it was realised that by doing this, whole city centres would have to be destroyed and rebuilt.  Besides,  there could never be enough parking provided for those who wished to stop and view the desolation. The one city centre they managed to wreck was Plymouth.

So that idea was kicked to touch. And instead….they’ve come up with nothing, still holding to the dream that driving is king, and promising somehow to relieve traffic congestion with road “improvements”.

London alone is setting the benchmark for improvements in cycling infrastructure, but this is down to the Mayor, nothing to do with government policy.  Another mayor could easily rip them out!

Cycling campaigners need to find a new approach. They could start by telling it like it is, explaining what drives government thinking on transport.

They need to read Wolmar’s book. He’s got it nailed, and he’s positive, too. Me, I think it’s a hopeless situation whereas he thinks government can be made to change, as they have in their approach to rail travel.

But there is no sign of any positive thinking yet for cycling.

As if to illustrate this, Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his recent budget announced a £b1 upgrade for local roads.  Theoretically, this could lead to making those roads safer for cycling, too, but we can’t bank on it. In fact there no was direct money awarded cycling.   No surprise there.

Hammond was the man who killed off Cycling England when David Cameron was prime minister. Cycling England had pioneered over two dozen cycling demonstration towns which showed that small but effective schemes would encourage more people to cycle instead of drive. 

Clearly they were too successful for their own good and  I fancy that is why the government closed them down!

Meanwhile, the improvements promised for the road link between Oxford and Cambridge (Cambridge was one of Cycle England’s successful cycling demonstration towns)  might work against cycling. The university cities have done much to improve cycling conditions and reduce car dependency.  But now there is fear that the fine balance between car and cycle achieved will be upset as the improved road link pours more motor traffic into both cities.

Nothing changes.

But  to bolster our hopes, or  more likely torment us further with a vision of Utopia,  the cycling press runs yet  again another article  extolling the virtues of cycling conditions in the Netherlands, where 28 per cent of the population ride as against only 2 per cent in the UK. 

I refer to the inspirational piece in the December-January issue of Cycle, the magazine of Cycling UK, written by chief executive Paul Tuohy.  He gives  us hope!

Until  says he just wishes he’d had our Ministers of Transport or even the PM, Theresa May, with him to show what has been achieved for cycling in Holland. You’re wasting your time, Paul. They want out of Europe!

Surely it’s now obvious that no British government will ever create anything remotely like the Dutch have done, and put cycling at the centre of a nationwide integrated transport system – unless there is a massive change in thinking at the core of the establishment.

It can only happen here if cycling becomes an election issue. But given the current crisis caused by Brexit, the public may have more important things on their minds.