Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pothole story scoops Ride London Surrey Classic in local press

IT’s a week since I joined the throng on West Street to watch the best pros in the world hurtle past the end of my road. This was the fifth annual Prudential Ride London Surrey Classic which this year was awarded the top rating, UCI World Cup status.

You may recall that the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff snatched the victory in a bunch sprint on The Mall after one of the most exciting road races we have seen, full of action and attacking riding throughout.

The pro race was the climax to a day which began with 25,000 charity riders in the Prudential Ride London 100 warming up the course for the pros, albeit taking a slightly shorter route through the Surrey Hills before rushing – some struggling -  back to the capital, ahead of the race.

The pro race hit my town at around 3.20 in the afternoon, lapping the town four times. So how did my local paper, the Dorking Advertiser, report this unique event?  

They didn’t! Their front page scoop was about a pothole. Nothing about the pro race at all!
Yes, they majored on the danger of pothole and how marshals had to warn  the charity riders to beware it. Gave this the front page.
This was on a par with a recent front page story of a driver given a £60 parking ticket for leaving a front wheel sticking millimetres out of a parking bay! Ah, good parochial stories.

The passage of the biggest single day professional road race in Britain, featuring many of the top teams from the Tour de France and including points champion Michael Matthews, was of no consequence.

The “preview” the week before – a few paragraphs in the things worth seeing section – gave the charity ride a brief mention But nothing about the race passing through town four times, no time table, nothing about the technical hilly course through the hills above the town. Nothing about the star riders.  In the past they gave the race a decent showing. This time, zilch.  
Unless the big race story got lost at the printers! Doubt it. They simply didn't run it!

So how did they fill four pages?  

Curiously, the Dorking Ad contrived to write up the charity ride, without once mentioning anything at all about the pro race following hot on the heels of the amateurs!

Imagine a major pop concert and the music press failing to write up the headline act!

But clearly that’s not how the editorial team saw it. They decided that the charity ride was the exclusive story of the day, giving that a good write up, it must be said.  But they studiously avoided the other thing.

It’s a bit like reporting on a swimming gala and saying nothing about the GB Olympic swimming team doing a few lengths!

I’m left wondering how they achieved this.

There was plenty of scope for their reporters and photographers, plenty of action on the tough hilly course through the Surrey Hills all around - and where Team Sky tore the peloton to pieces – before the race headed one more time through the town centre and back to London via Box Hill.

The race came into town on the slightly downhill A25 from Westcott.  It hit the town at such speed you caught your breath. It was like an avalanche.  There were whoops of delight from spectators lining the kerbsides.

The three pubs on West Street were doing good business and the pavements outside were crowded with spectators agog at the action. Many were perhaps hoping for a glimpse of the likes of Andre Greipel, a name they would be familiar with from his sprinting exploits in Le Tour, although not this year when he failed to win one stage.

Even now, after decades of reporting the races from the inside, the spectacle of seeing a race going full tilt still excites.  The wow factor as 150 pairs of wheels rush by,  whipping dust and paper into the air,  the roar of the following team cars - looking like toast racks with expensive bikes slotted in them someone said -  and the beat of chopper blades overhead.

For just over an hour this controlled mayhem delighted the senses. That’s what people enjoyed. The town given over to sporting spectacle.

 The Kings Arms pub added to the carnival by showing live TV coverage in the bar so you could follow the action and dart outside again just before the breakaway came belting through with the field  right on their tail.

We could have been anywhere - Belgium, Holland, France, Italy. It seemed professional road racing has made its mark in Britain, too.

But not in my local paper!

This is how the Dorking Ad reported race day. The “race” for them was all about the charity ride. Oh, and a pothole.

They devoted the front page to the pothole and three inside pages to this “race”, and the moaners, just for balance!

The front page headline took some beating: “Why wasn’t pothole fixed before race?”

This was in inch-high thick Times Bold. And it took two reporters to put the story together

about how anxious marshals pointed out a hole in the road on West Street helping thousands of charity riders avoid disaster.

Well, clearly it’s a story, but front page?

They illustrated their story with probably the most undramatic picture ever, of a lone rider successfully avoiding the hole. In fact, not one of the 25,000 riders was reported to have hit it. Neither did the pros, I must presume.

Clearly, Surrey Council deserves a rocket.  And the marshals the riders thanks.

But the paper didn’t actually mention the Pro race once!

Not once. Not once in four pages. There were lots of pictures of the charity ride and one pic which 
looked as if might be the pro bunch – that unmistakable relaxed style. But there was caption to say so.

The front page was taken up with the hole.  Of course, we should be grateful to the newspaper for shaming Surrey Council’s highways department.

So that was the front page. What did they write about on the three inside pages given over to the event?

Well, it was good spread all about the charity ride and how many good causes will benefit, and how the event organisers will donate big sums to a local charity. They reported how those turning out to watch thoroughly enjoyed cheering on riders of all ages.  
One woman bystander said that as she gets locked in by this event and can’t do a thing about it she might as well be positive and come out and cheer the them on.  Surrey Hills residents take note!

The report noted that last year’s bike jam had been avoided by reducing the number of entrants to 25,000. The event went off smoothly, it said, although sadly one participant died – Maris Ozols, 67 -   who suffered a cardiac arrest on the shorter 46-mile route.

So what was on fourth and final page of the Advertiser's coverage of this great event? 

The fourth page was their piece de resistance, surpassing their front cover pothole scoop. It carried the following headline in big black letters: “County roads are being shut illegally during bike race”.

This told how residents of Surrey Hills have complained that the road closures are illegal. They have been complaining about this ever since the 2012 Olympic road races, saying that there are no alternative routes for them to use during the lengthy road closure.

Hugh Brasher, event director of Prudential RideLondon, replied saying that the road closures are “fully compliant with the law and the event has all the necessary permissions.”

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hoy's plea saves £43m funding.. but British Cycling give way to allow England's Regions a place on Board

Last Saturday a lively and controversial Extraordinary General Meeting of British Cycling in Warrington finally approved changes to the constitution as demanded by UK Sport’s proposals for Olympic funded sports.

But only after the governing body gave way to allow a crucial amendment to allow the 10 English Regions a place on the Board.

In a statement on British Cycling’s website, Julie Harrington, Chief Executive Officer of British Cycling, said:

“Today, British Cycling’s National Council voted in favour of changes to our constitution in order to ensure that we are compliant with the Code for Sports Governance. Our membership also voted for an amendment to create the role of a director nominated by the English regions to go alongside those nominated by Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling. We have heard the concerns of our National Councillors and we will actively work with our membership to ensure that the voice of the enthusiast remains central to our purpose.

“Securing funding for elite and grassroots participation through these changes will enable us to inspire more people on to two wheels across communities the length of the country. Without secured funding we will not be able to share our love of the sport and enable others to try it. Our sport is growing and growing up. Today’s vote is the start of an exciting new chapter for British Cycling and our sport.”

But it was anything but straight forward.

The following  story is gleaned from officials representing South East Region and Central Region who were at the forefront of the opposition to some of the proposals.

They faced a weekend of intense lobbying and debate. It ended with British Cycling succeeding in keeping its £43 government funding as National Council voted to accept the controversial new code of governance demanded by UK Sport and Sport England.

Bringing in Sir Chris  Hoy late last week to make an emotive plea to support the vote appears to have swung waverers. Hoy claimed that without funding he could never have achieved his six Olympic gold medals – a British record.

His intervention appears to have saved the Federation’s bacon – their jobs and funding!

British Cycling had feared their proposals would be rejected by National Council which had judged them to be too severe, that the changes would make National Council obsolete.

It became apparent to some on the eve of the EGM that BC management had underestimated the strength of feeling and as a result they climbed down on some of the points.

Crucially, this led to the acceptance of an amendment to the proposal by South East Region to allow the 10 English Regions representation on the new board to preserve National Council’s influence in board decisions.

That was the crux of the matter to most of  those opposed, including the South East’s Peter King.  The former CEO of British Cycling  had warned that National Council would likely reject British Cycling/UK Sports controversial changes to the organisation if National Council lost its voice.

However, Tony Doyle, former president of the British Cycling Federation, wanted the proposals rejected and to use the three month deadline he says was provided to negotiate a better deal. Funding would have been frozen during that period, not lost, he told me.

Doyle described those Regions which voted against their mandate as “Turncoats”.

 “I'm staggered by yesterday's outcome. Integrity is seriously in short supply amongst our National Councillors. Shame on them,” he said.

He says National Councillors were bullied into submission when they were told that 225 British Cycling staff would lose their jobs, and that the redundancy payments alone would cost the Federation £2.1 million.

Peter King didn’t take kindly to be called a “turncoat”, and neither, he ventured, will his fellow South East Region Councillors.  

King also objected to what he called a “challenge to my integrity” and called for perspective into the whole affair.

He and his fellow South East delegation had not disregarded their mandate, he says.

“The view of my colleagues, taken right at the end of the meeting when almost all of our proposals had succeeded, was that we were mandated to vote against the key proposal if it was not amended but that a view should be taken once the outcome of the amendment process was known.” 

But he added that even if all SE Region votes had been against, the proposals would still have succeeded. He added he cannot speak for the Central and South Votes.

King said his position at the EGM was exactly what it had been all the way through this, since his first discussion with Doyle.  “We agreed that modernisation was overdue and that we expected the proposals to be passed by the EGM.  We also agreed that if the proposals were to succeed then we needed to try to get them amended to mitigate the primacy of the Board and the authority of National Council.  In both respects those aims were achieved,” says King.

Doyle had wanted to bring to account those members of the Board and others he felt had brought the Federation into dispute in the recent past, while King’s intention, he says, was to “contribute to the necessary improvements in governance, direction and management going forward.”

However, the EGM is just the start of the affair! King says he has spoken to people at Regional meetings who don’t think the proposals go far enough. There is a sense of “an increasing disconnect between the Board and senior staff and the sport as we know it at local level.  These concerns now need to be addressed urgently. The question is, what do we do now?”

Central Region’s Stuart Benstead paid tribute to Peter King for the way he formulated the many amendments that re-shaped the documents into an acceptable form to National Council.

Benstead said it was recognised that further modernisation of the documents will be necessary. He said the task now was to elect the right people to what is likely to be an all-new national Board.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brailsford and his gymnastics stunt at the Rayner dinner

When I read about Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford bawling out

a cycling reporter on the Tour’s rest day for writing “S...” about him, it sounded very much like a Trump moment.

But it also reminded me of the time when I crossed swords – or words – with the great man.  Brailsford, that is. Not the American  President. 

My comments had been harmless but he didn’t take kindly to them, I learned. He politely chastised me when we next met. He gave me a steely smile. But there was no outburst.

Nevertheless, he had been clearly irritated by what I had written.  And I was very surprised, for I thought his stock had risen considerably by my observations. But no. Whoa, I thought.

The incident in question had occurred during that celebrated annual social occasion, the Dave Rayner Fund Raising Dinner. This must have been 2003 and I think it was held in Harrogate. Or was it Bradford?

No matter. I was covering the event for Cycling Weekly and Brailsford was there with several members of the World Class Performance team, some of whom may have benefited from Rayner funding in the past. At that stage in his career I think he was in a managerial role and had yet to be elevated to the top job of Performance Director prior to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Anyway, after the dinner and just before the auction of cycling memorabilia was to begin, many guests had repaired to the lounge bar. Everyone was in high spirits, as they usually are at a Rayner dinner – it’s a huge laugh, just as the late Dave Rayner himself was. Rayner was a charismatic and talented professional bike rider who died tragically young and whose name lives on by the inspired  creation of the Rayner Fund which has since provided countless youngsters with a springboard to the pro ranks.

So when I spotted Brailsford doing side to side cartwheels in the crowded hotel lounge, to the cheers of those around him who clearly appreciated this demonstration of kinesthetic awareness and flexibility - which it seems has been passed on to ace descender Froome  - I naturally included his excellent gymnastic stunt in my story.

A story intended as a light-hearted sketch of the proceedings and which perfectly reflected the nature of the event. Or so I thought.

Dave thought otherwise, I discovered a while later when reporting the opening gala night of the newly built Newport Velodrome in South Wales.

As I walked into the building someone tipped me off. Ooooh. He didn’t like what you had written about him. I should not have written about him doing cartwheels!

Mystified, I sought him out in the track centre and asked him if that was true. He said yes, he’d taken a dim view to my reporting him doing cartwheels.

They were perfect cartwheels, I told him. He smiled thinly. He’d rather I hadn’t written it.

Oh dear, come on Dave, lighten up! I remember saying. He grinned at that.

And that was that. We met on several press occasions after that and clearly the matter had been forgotten. 

But it left me surprised and disappointed. I could only surmise that he considered that such antics reported in the cycling press would not do his job prospects any good when in fact it can’t have done him any harm at all!

In fact! Well, not in fact, I am making this bit up. But I like to think that his boss, Peter Keen, who created the World Class Performance Plan in the first place,  thought that if he made Brailsford Performance Director, he might then “perform cartwheels”  around the opposition? 

(Or run circles around them, as the saying goes)

And so it has proved!

I mean, just look at him. Leaving out all the controversy of the recent past, here is the Mastermind behind the greatest haul of Olympic medals of any sport in Britain; he is the creator of Team Sky, top team in Le Tour.

And he does perfect cartwheels. 


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Can King save British Cycling - again?

WITH the cycling world in thrall to the Tour de France as it builds to its climax this weekend,  few will be aware of a battle of a different order this side of the Channel on Saturday (July 22). This is the race to save British Cycling from itself at an Extraordinary General Meeting organised in unseemly haste to make controversial changes to the constitution.

Both Peter King, the former CEO who created the new-look British Cycling 20 years ago, and Tony Doyle, a past president, have now gone public because they are profoundly concerned that the membership remains largely unaware of the controversy threatening to derail Britain's top Olympic sport.  

They and at least two of BC’s Regions (Central Region and South Eastern) fear that National Council – the voice of the 130,000 grass roots members – will be rendered almost obsolete as a consequence of satisfying British Cycling’s funding partners, UK Sport and Sport England, and their new code of governance.

Another likely consequence, if the grass roots sport suffers, is a  mass exodus of riders to other cycling organisations and the negative impact that will have for the sport.

According to British Cycling, the changes are all about improving Britain’s most successful Olympic sport. In reality they are being forced by the government to make changes to show they are fit for purpose after the spate of scandals lowered cycling’s esteem.

But if they don’t do what UK Sport want,  British Cycling risks losing £millions in government funding! And with it, also lose a fair number of the 300 or so jobs at British Cycling HQ.

Some call this blackmail.  Certainly, British Cycling is at the mercy of government quangos.

No one wants this. We’ve all enjoyed the unprecedented rise in popularity of cycling and cycle sport and the huge international successes by British riders. We want this to continue, for BC to move forward.

But not like this, not under a new and divisive constitution being rushed through without proper discussion by a board some say cannot be trusted.

It has been noted there are several omissions from the agenda; most notably there is no mention of the place of National Council!

Perhaps that’s because it is to become obsolete?

There is also concern that many problems have arisen because BC admin staff are having too much say in matters and their proposals are being accepted without being given proper scrutiny. It’s an authoritarian streak which crops up from time to time and National Council could always be relied upon to take the wind out of HQ’s sails!

It all points to a heated debate in Warrington next Saturday.

Both Peter King CBE, the former CEO who 20 years ago laid the foundations for British Cycling’s historic rise to fame and Tony Doyle, the former BC president whose ideas inspired the changes King brought about,  are appalled at the prospect of National Council being silenced.

If those two major players are flagging this up surely they must be listened to?

King, a chartered secretary and accountant, and member  of Redhill CC, was appointed CEO of the British Cycling Federation 20 years ago, called in to rescue the governing body from financial ruin and a crisis of their own making.

He carried out a root and branch reorganisation with the aim of making cycling Britain’s most successful Olympic sport and was awarded the CBE for doing so. The crisis of their own making was created when the board refused to work with newly elected President Tony Doyle MBE, the former World Professional Pursuit Champion who was chosen by the members to replace Ian Emmerson.

In doing so, the board were in breach of their own constitution and chaos followed resulting in an EGM and legal action which cost the Federation dear. The board was sacked and King set up a completely new team with the express intention of developing Doyle’s ideas for modernising the sport.

King says that “this EGM is all about making National Council a largely impotent and perhaps even pointless gathering.” ….

“My aim,” he said earlier this month, “is to ensure that all of those who represent the membership/clubs/regions at the EGM are aware of exactly what they are voting for or against – i.e. the transfer of ultimate authority from National Council to a Board where 6 out of 12 members, including the Chair with a casting vote, are not elected or appointed from within the sport.

“At the very least, the England Regions should have the right to elect the four members who will be elected by National Council.”

He is especially concerned that the Chair will have a casting vote on any contentious issue…and that the balance of power will sit with the independent appointed directors.”

For these so called independent directors  might not necessarily have much experience of the sport, but still be able to wield undue influence!

Last week King and Doyle shared their views at the Pedal Club luncheon in London, whose members include many top Regional and national officials.

On the table are proposals for wholesale changes to the management structure and board.

It is a serious matter.

To a certain extent it is felt that British cycling have brought much of this upon themselves following their failure to act on the King Report of 2012. It was Peter King’s Review, commissioned by British Cycling, which revealed how some elite athletes had been subject to bullying and sexism in the drive for medals.  This so shocked British Cycling they failed to do anything about it. And nothing of the report was made public until  recently.

The affair only became public knowledge last year when Jess Varnish, dropped from the Olympic team, broke her silence.   She was followed by other riders claiming similar experiences.

As we know, the whole sorry tale has since been paraded before a Parliamentary Committee when matters were made much worse by British Cycling top brass failing to provide adequate explanations. 
No wonder UK Sport want BC to put their house in order if they are to be seen fit to continue to receive £millions in public money.

But why is it necessary to make National Council all but obsolete? That’s the argument.

Should National Council pass all proposals as they stand the balance of power will shift from National Council – representing the Regional members -  to British Cycling’s new style  management which it  is feared will be under the thumb of UK Sport.

Any other organisation proposing major changes to its operation would spell out the pros and cons for its shareholders to consider.

Have BC done this with members?

Doesn’t look like it. They fear losing the money. Who wouldn’t?

So they’ve sweet talked the whole thing which leads some to conclude they want members kept in the dark about the down side.

This is akin to changing the locks to the building while everyone is out - watching Le Tour, for instance.

Except that both South East and Central Regions have rumbled them. They have recognised the issues and on Saturday will debate and vote accordingly in the hope of preserving National Council’s democratic right to have a say in the running the sport.


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.”
Read more at https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/about/article/20170614-about-bc-news-British-Cycling-publishes-the-cycling-independent-review-0#zv86Hob3V6q83vJP.99

 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.