November 30/07 3:20 am - CCA Selection: Interesting Conflicts or Conflicts of Interest?
Posted by Editor on 11/30/07
CCA Selection - Interesting Conflicts or Conflicts of Interest?
by Matt Hansen, with files from Rob Jones
With the 2008 Olympics around the corner, are we headed back to a period of strife when it comes to athlete selection for Canadian cycling? Selections are always controversial - there's never been one in Canada (or any country, most likely) that hasn't resulted in someone being unhappy. It's the nature of situation - the one who doesn't get in thinks he or she should have - and sometimes rightly so. This past year there was a controversy with the Pan Am Champs which resulted in the entire Symmetrics Team withdrawing from the event. Thankfully, Martin Gilbert pulled off a great ride and won the road race. But not without stirring the big pot that is the High Performance Committee.
The High Performance Committee is currently comprised of four members: Louis Barbeau (Quebec), Luc Arseneau (New Brunswick), Denise Kelly (Ontario) and Brian Cowie (BC.) On paper, that the committee is comprised of members who represent various regional biases is a good thing. However, upon closer examination of the HPC, there does seem to be some potential for conflicts of interests with provincial organizations, which threatens the neutrality of future selections. But before I get to that - let's talk briefly about the "bad old days" of CCA selection, which led to radical changes that were designed to create transparency and fairness.
In the 1980s, the CCA was plagued with heavy favoritism and biases, which led to a number of unfair selections (at least, by many of those viewing the selection process). World Championships and National Team Projects selections galore were constantly the subject of questioning and suspicion by those on the outside looking in. This led to a number of changes in the 90s - culminating in a few notable lawsuits and appeals processes, which paved the way for fairness and due process.
Some of the most memorable incidents were that of Gord Fraser's appeal for the 1996 Olympic berth (which left Brian Walton off the road team, but hey, he focused solely on the points race and a Silver medal), as well as the 1995 MTB Worlds which saw Jason Crookham's spot removed in favour of Bill Hurley. Hurley had suffered a flat tire in a Canada Cup event, which meant his overall position in the standings was harmed. One of the highlights of that appeal process was Hurley reportedly changing a tire in court to prove how long it took to change a tire.
But things seemed to get better with the creation of transparent selection criteria and appeals processes aimed at athletes wishing to fairly challenge selections. But what about conflicts of interest, huh?
I spoke with several people about this issue - some off the record, some on. There are many concerned riders and coaches who are disturbed by some of the current conflicts of interests in the sport - especially on the HPC, the Events Committee and the Commissaires Committee. Essentially, there are complaints that riders, people (support and officials) and places (for events) are being chosen unfairly. Like I've already said, there's always bound to be complaints that selections were wrong. There'll always be allegations of biases and even conflicts of interest. In fact, having biases (regional or otherwise) is a good thing in terms of brokering democratic solutions and selections.
Kris Westwood, who has recently left the CCA as HP Director, said that, "That's a fundamental problem with the form of governance in our sport. There are definitely conflicts of interest in the board and committees. It's practically unavoidable because of the relatively few amounts of people qualified to be involved."
And it's true - when it comes to those with the expertise to execute decisions in this country, the numbers are low. Especially if it involves a volunteer position - sitting on a committee. Denise Kelly is the Ontario Provincial Coaching Director, Louis Barbeau is the Executive Director of the FSQC, Luc Arseneau is the head coach at the Atlantic Cycling Centre. This is no secret, and each member has made that clear prior to his or her involvement with the HPC. What is more problematic is the funding conflict for Barbeau.
Simply put, the Fédération Québécoise des Sports Cyclistes (FQSC) has a funding program in place that is related to the number of athletes that are chosen to National Team and Olympic Team programs. Therefore, Barbeau's decisions as part of the HPC directly affect monetary gains made toward his own federation. This is a serious problematic situation for both the CCA and FQSC, but it's largely been overlooked.
What's the solution? It is fair enough that each member on the HPC may or may not make selections based on his or her regional biases (it may also because he or she is more familiar with a particular rider, having seen him or her progress due to proximity), but shouldn't conflicts of interest involving money be more closely watched?
I spoke to Jim Crosscombe, the Executive Director of the OCA. He concurred that although he cannot cite specific examples of conflicts of interests, he does believe that a "perception" of a conflict of interest with the HPC or any committee for that matter, is extremely negative.
Westwood agreed that the potential for perceived conflict of interest is there because of the very fact that the system Canada uses for selection - boards and committees - lends itself to that. But would any other solution function?
Other countries appoint one selector to the country, who then chooses the athletes based on information gleaned over the year. Can you imagine in a country such as ours with such regional differences what might happen if a Westerner was chosen? A Quebecker? Or even (gasp) someone from Toronto? (Aside: Hey, I agree it is a small scene and we are all somewhat in conflict - I write comic books for the Symmetrics team, right?) For me though, it's the transparency that is key in any possible conflicts of interest. That no one talks about Quebec's funding conflict with Barbeau's spot on the HPC is troubling indeed.
So at the HPC level, is it just built into the system - a numbers games in terms of those who can contribute, or is it more valuable to have no conflict of interest by way of technical knowledge? The tradeoff for reduced propensity for conflict might come at the cost of expertise.
When I asked Westwood about the Barbeau situation, he told me "All CCA boards are full of people who have other cycling roles at other levels provincially, so there will be conflicts. I am not sure exactly what the funding situation in Quebec was, but I believe there is some link between national team and funding, and I believe that is the case in some other provinces as well."
Westwood said this is not an issue unique to sports governance, but exists at levels of business in the public and private sectors. "It's not a problem as long as two things happen: people need to declare any conflicts of interest they may have, and they need to recuse themselves from discussions that touch directly on those conflicts."
And, in fact, it does not appear that this potential funding conflict occurs in Ontario or BC, at least. The closest example of that would be with the Quest for Gold program in Ontario - where some athletes can receive funding if they make the World's teams - far different than the entire federation receiving funds because of an individual's choice.
What about new blood within the CCA - not just the HPC - but beyond? Richard Wooles has been the head coach at Cycling BC for the past year, coming with extensive knowledge after working with the Great British National team. He himself hopes to be involved on the HPC to better understand how our system works. "I'm trying to get on the HP Committee," Wooles said. "Because I don't understand the decisions, why we are making the decisions [the way we are]."
However, maybe the most important question that should be asked is: What is the role of the HPC?
Currently, the HPC decides both policy for project selection and, in certain cases, who the actual athletes are who are selected for the projects - the so-called 'Committee Choice'.
From talks with athletes, team managers and coaches there is a lot of anger over the perceived interference in selections by Committee members who don't see the athletes compete on a regular basis, don't know the details of who is riding well (and who isn't) and, basically, don't allow the people who are the professionals to make the decisions.
Maybe it is time to restrict the HPC to making policy decisions and directing long term strategy, and allow others in the trenches to make the specific athlete/project decisions. This would also remove much of the possibility for perceived bias, while giving the HPC its deserved role of oversight for the High Performance programs.
I got my hands on two interesting documents that directly relate to this conflict of interest that Louis Barbeau and the FQSC face: first, The CCA Conflict Of Interest policy, and second the CCA Organization Structure. In the CCA Conflict Of Interest document, section 3.2 sums this up well:
" A contractor may not participate in decisions relating to his/her position, except to provide information. Any volunteer who anticipates some benefit from a CCA decision shall make full disclosure and shall not participate in the decision, except to provide information; this includes possible remuneration to the volunteer or a relative, or benefits to any other organization with which the volunteer may be affiliated, except for a provincial branch of the CCA. "
Further, in the Organization Structure document it says that the mandate of the HPC is planning, evaluation and establishment of standards, NOT selection of athletes! However, further down under the Responsibilities section (item #2) it says that they select National Team members, which conflicts with their stated mandate. Finally, under Staff Support it says the Director, HPC provides support - but that role was, in fact, Kris Westwood - and now there is no Director, so therefore there appears to be no staff liaison...
With the CCA AGM looming - and next year being an Olympic year - I think this opens the organization up to a serious potential for bias and that this situation demands immediate attention from the Board. Is Barbeau and the FQSC in a perceived or actual conflict of interest? Has he recused himself from any decisions that might involve conflicts of interests (and have any of the other members in similar cases)?
Times are a changin' and with the 2008 Olympics around the corner, let's hope we don't have a repeat of the past.