September 19/07 6:52 am - A Blueprint for Change
Posted by Editor on 09/19/07
A Blueprint for Change - An Editorial
It is time for drastic changes to the way the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) conducts its operations. This is a very bold statement, but one that I feel is necessary if our sport is going to survive and prosper at an elite level in the environment that exists for all sports these days.
Cycling in Canada is still running on an old model, whereby national sports bodies received the majority of their funding from government, with an occasional sponsor allowing them to offer some additional programs (or usually top up funding for required programs).
However, government has changed the funding model drastically, with funding tied to specific programs (such as BMX or mountain bike), where the greatest potential for immediate return (ie, medals) is identified. Funding is even being cut if a sport manages to bring in sponsors. This leaves little or no budget for development, or for sectors of the sport that have not been identified by Sport Canada as having a high payoff (in the short term).
Cycling is also suffering under the added burden of having to support multiple sectors that have little cross over; something that few other sports face. Consider that the CCA is required to support Road, Mountain Bike, Track, BMX and Paralympic disciplines - and these are just the Olympic disciplines, leaving Cyclo-cross and Downhill out in the cold.
It is as if swimming had one federation for swimming, diving, syncro and water polo; or skiing had alpine, nordic, freestyle and ski jumping in the same association fighting for a slice of the same pie.
Given the conditions that the CCA faces, I believe that they are actually doing an excellent job, but it isn't enough.
The fight for Olympic spots continues to get tougher, as the IOC and UCI place increasingly demanding criteria in place. The cost to have our athletes compete at the events necessary to achieve the level of performance required to be competitive, and to get the results needed to earn those all important Olympic spots (for which government funding flows) also continues to rise.
It is really a Catch-22: the CCA gets money for results, but can't get results without having money to spend on programs. And the government keeps slashing what they provide and/or setting the bar ever higher.
Personally, I think that, if the truth be told, the current federal regime sees little or no value in supporting sports outside of the North American pro leagues, and has set the system up so that sports are doomed to fail. It is no use pointing to the money that the Australians pour into sport, because we are just not going to see that happen in Canada - the public support is not there and never will be.
Therefore, I predict that if the CCA continues on the current path of trying to be all things to all people, and depends upon government funding to achieve its goals, then we are doomed to seeing our sport wither.
It is time for the CCA to step off the funding merry go round and take charge of its own future. I spend a lot of time at events all over the world, and get to see a large variety of programs that are used to support athletes. To my mind, the system that the CCA needs to adopt is along the lines of that used by USA Cycling for their U23 program, and by the Swisspower team to support Swiss mountain bikers.
At the Champery World Cup earlier in the season, I was a guest of Thomas Frischknecht and the Swisspower team. I had a chance to stay with the team, eat with the team, get to know the riders a bit, and have a long conversation with Thomas about the program.
What it boils down to is that the Swiss mountain bike coach Andi Seeli saw that mountain biking was not getting federation resources (road was and is the priority), and decided that he needed to step outside the cycling federation and build a program.
Thomas said that Andi came to him with a proposal: use Thomas' celebrity to draw sponsors and build a pro team that would allow identified younger athletes to develop with the support (financial, coaching, equipment) they require. While Thomas would be the initial draw for sponsors, as the younger riders began to get results they would also attract sponsors.
This program has grown to have a multi-million dollar budget and has produced World Cup winners and world champions and, even though Thomas has stated that he will retire after the 2008 season, he is confident that the program will continue.
USA Cycling has developed a similar program for its U23 men - primarily on the road, but also some offroad. The team has a full list of equipment sponsors, plus a financial backer - VMG. VMG (Velocity Made Good) is a corporate sponsor that certainly couldn't/wouldn't pony up the funds needed to sponsor an entire national program, but they could see the value in working with this one segment of the national team. The result is that the riders get to train and race together all season, and get access to some bigger events (such as the Tour of California), which they certainly wouldn't on smaller squads. A number of riders have already graduated to larger squads.
In a small and uncoordinated way, this is what has begun to happen with Symmetrics, Expresscopy.com and Rocky Mountain-Haywood. Together, these squads are accounting for much of the rankings success that Canada has achieved in different sectors of the sport. This is particularly true in men's road racing where, without the efforts of Symmetrics, we would have no more than one male rider at the world championships road race next week (instead of three). Unfortunately, the Rocky Mountain-Haywood program is almost certain to scale down next year, and possibly disappear after Beijing.
The CCA has many valuable properties in its programs, but together they are too big and cross too many markets for any but the largest companies to sponsor - and cycling is not high on the list of these corporations. It is much more feasible for the CCA to sign a sponsor specifically for the women's road program, or the BMX program, or the cross-country or downhill programs, than it is for the entire national team. Each of these programs has value to a specific sponsor, depending upon the market they are trying to reach.
However, for this to happen requires a second major change at the CCA: a revamping of the Board and administrative structure. Currently, the Board is elected from among interested and passionate members of the cycling community. They meet a few times a year to be updated on the operational side of the Association and decide on the few policy issues which come up. This is an ineffective and outmoded model.
If you look at most Boards these days, members are recruited based on what they can bring to the table: financial acumen, marketing, legal, government or industry experience. They are then expected to be resources that the organization (whether it be non- or for profit) can use to achieve its goals.
CCA Board members are not selected that way but, despite that, we do have members on the current Board with useful experience and knowledge in many areas. Unfortunately, their expertise is not being harnessed to make full use of their abilities, so far as I can tell, nor is any effort being made to identify gaps and work to fill them.
This also points to a hole in the Committee structure at the CCA - there are High Performance, Development and Officials Committees, but what about a Marketing and Sponsorship Committee, or a Communications Committee, or a Government Relations Committee? A further Committee (which I believe is long overdue) is an Advisory Committee to the Board. This would consist of members of the industry, government, teams, athletes, media and other useful sectors.
I believe that the CCA needs to start recruiting effectively among the business community for Board and Committee members. There are many, many cycling enthusiasts in positions of authority, who would support cycling, but they are never asked and there is no place to fit them in, as the CCA currently operates.
In 1996, Canada won five medals at the Olympics, and did almost nothing to capitalize on it effectively. In 2000 we won none, but were luckily able to coast on our 1996 accomplishments. In 2004 we won two (one-sixth of all Canadian medals!), which again staved off drastic cuts to funding.
Hopefully, we will win medals in Beijing, but we need to be looking beyond that now - with 2010 Vancouver sucking up government resources, a bag full of medals still won't see a significant improvement in traditional sources of funding.
It is time for the CCA to take charge of its own future.