Posted by Editor on 11/29/07
Is Tribalism Destroying Our Sport? - An Editorial
Last week, we published a report about the Louis Garneau velodrome in Quebec City being demolished (see Daily News: November 22/07 12:45 pm EST - Quebec City Velodrome Demolished). After that, a discussion started up on the Forums about the loss of the LG velodrome, and a posting was made that the Forest City velodrome had stop running races and would likely close up within a year.
I contacted Rob Good, one of the founders of the FCV, to find out the status of the track, and we had a chat on Sunday morning, while he was driving to the track for the CanAm Challenge. The following is the gist of our conversation:
- The track is NOT in imminent danger of closing, with a strong membership base of over 260 dues-paying members.
- Racing has finished for the rest of this (calendar) year, due, in large part, to poor turnout by the racers.
- Training camps, youth programs and recreational (ie, riding for fitness) programs are going great guns.
- The youth program in particular is doing well, with enough Cadet men showing up to require running multiple heats, and as many as 9-15 Cadet and Junior women participating in events. As Rob G. pointed out, this is far more than either road or mountain bike events can attract.
- The FCV is attracting members and participants from outside the usual cycling (ie, racing) community, and has recently begun to bring in members of the rowing community.
To me, this leads to two important points:
1. There are lots of people out there who like to ride bikes, who are not attracted to the traditional competitive scene.
2. The traditional racing community, for all their talk about how much they want to increase participation in the sport, have little or no ongoing interest in supporting a track by providing the time or funds required to keep it running.
I can guarantee that the second point will draw howls of outrage from members of the racing community who view themselves as committed to a track program - the 'if you build, they will come' crowd. However, the majority of tracks in Canada that have managed to put together an ongoing program have done it by going outside the road racing community.
This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, since it brings new people into our sport. However, it does suggest that, not withstanding the fervent promises of roadies to support a track every time one is proposed, it just ain't going to happen. Therefore, any future financial models for the ongoing support of a track better have alternate sources of revenue than the cycling community.
The more disturbing part of this situation is that there has not been the crossover to road racing (or mountain biking) in Ontario at levels one would hope for. All of these Juniors and Cadets are not showing up at the road races after having been turned on to the track.
Some of that is because the track participants aren't necessarily looking to enter racing - they are just looking for a fitness program that is more interesting than going to a gym. And that's fine. But I wonder how many of the riders in the FCV programs aren't going into road racing because of the perception that it is an unfriendly environment? And, by the same token, how many roadies aren't taking the opportunity to broaden their experience in the sport?
Programs like those run by FCV should be a direct pipeline to bringing young athletes into road racing and mountain biking - and to introducing road and mountain bike athletes to the track. In a broader sense, BMX should also offer these opportunities for crossover. In particular, track, BMX and 4-Cross have shown a number of successful transfers from one discipline to another.
But it isn't happening on a regular basis, as far as I can tell, and the critical question is why? I can't offer any pat answers, but I have a strong suspicion that while a lot of it is due to a lack of communication and the lack of a development strategy at the governing body level, an even bigger impediment is the tribal mentality of many in the sport.
This goes beyond just encouraging crossover between the racing disciplines. It also relates to involvement in, and support for, trailbuilding initiatives (are you a member of IMBA, and if not, why not?), bike routes in cities, programs to reduce taxes on cycling equipment ... in fact, everything that encourages more people to ride bikes more of the time.
Near where I live is the town of Port Dover - home of the (in)famous Friday the 13th motorcycle rally. Literally thousands of motorcyclists show up for this event on every kind of bike imaginable - Harleys, cruisers, sport racers, dirt bikes, trikes, even scooters. Whenever I see motorcyclists passing, they always acknowledge each other - when was the last time you waved or nodded your head at the middle-aged woman commuting to work while you whizzed by tricked out in spandex?
This started out as a commentary on how the more traditional cycling community has not supported the Forest City Velodrome but, really, that is just an example of how our factionalized sport continues to hold itself back and drive away potential recruits.
Think about that next time you run across someone from outside your tribe.
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