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October 26/04 1:26 am - Canadian Cycling 6 Years Later: an Editorial


Posted by Editoress on 10/26/04
 

By Rob JonesIn August of 1998 I wrote an editorial entitled "Canadian Cycling in Crisis" (view Target=_blank>here). In it, I expressed concern that the future of cycling in Canada was in crisis, with little emphasis on development, and a continued reliance on "past performers". Six years later, as I re-read this article, I see that many of the same concerns continue to plague our sport.

There still appears to be no overall strategic plan or proposal in place to address development (both for existing riders in the system, and to attract and identify new talent). The provinces and national association are still at odds on many issues (in a lot of cases, the same issues). There is no national road series, no national track series, and the national mountain bike series does not have (and never has had) a title sponsor, nor does it offer any meaningful reward to participants. Now, with the addition of BMX for 2008 in Beijing, the situation has been exacerbated. Marketing has occurred on an apparent ad hoc basis, with few (if any) new sponsors signing on.

On the athlete front, we rely, for the most part, on many of the same riders as we did in 1998. Many of these riders continue to perform at the highest levels, but when one or more becomes injured, the consequences can cause a crisis ˆ witness the injuries of Roland Green and Chrissy Redden last year, with the loss of one Olympic spot for the men, and the heroic efforts by other riders to avoid the same situation from occurring in the women's ranking.

Photo taken today in Hamilton.

Finally, one year after the excitement of the Road Worlds in Hamilton, we have little in the way of visible, tangible rewards we can point to. There is, of course, the legacy, split into two funds of approximately $500,000 each, but neither appears to have done much beyond investing the funds. The CCA legacy has gone so far as to appoint a Board (although the bylaws are still not approved by the CCA Board), but the provincial one still hasn't even got that far (it is difficult to tell how far they have gotten, since none of the partners organizations I have spoken with seem to know). The promised up-swell in publicity and recognition for cycling has not happened either, with numbers for many events continuing to stagnate or, even worse, drop.

Having painted a fairly depressing picture, I will be the first to admit that the last year has seen some promising developments. The appointment of Kris Westwood as Development Coach, was an excellent step. Kris brings experience as a rider, coach and manager to the position and has begun to put together a framework for a comprehensive development program.

However, Kris is just one person, and what is needed is a commitment by all levels ˆ from riders, coaches, clubs and provinces ˆ to build a development system. This system is a huge undertaking, requiring much more than just setting standards and holding training camps. Coaches need to have a process for bringing riders up through the ranks, talent identification activities, projects, race series and sponsors are all needed ˆ for road, mountain, track and BMX. Kris is working on a program, but it will remain just a document unless the national and provincial bodies buy into it, and the funds are available to implement it.

The restructuring at the Board level of the CCA is also beginning to bear fruit, particularly with the injection of new blood. However, this needs to continue, both on the Board and in the Committees, all of whom need to refocus their efforts on long term planning. For too long, the CCA has worked on a quadrennial cycle, just thinking from one Olympics to the next. When I spoke in Athens with Martin Barras, the Canadian coach who runs the highly successful Australian track program (and who has just been re-hired by the AIS ˆ Australian Institute of Sport), he told me that their focus right now is 2012. Canadian cycling needs to shift their focus further down the road in the same fashion, and the Board and Committees need to recognize this, and act on it.

The increasing tendency of the UCI to focus on their core European properties through programs such as the upcoming Pro Tour means that there are huge implications for non-cycling nations (and make no mistake, we are in that category). The previous technique of running around the world frantically grasping at UCI points (and putting huge pressure on individual riders) will become pointless if the UCI continues on their present path. Targeted, long range planning will become key for any international programs (which, without a doubt, will be even more important than they are currently).

Similarly, a domestic program needs to be constructed. Currently, there is a scatter gun, regional approach, some efforts duplicated, and other areas not addressed at all. Track is primarily centred in Quebec, because that is where the primary track coach is. Mountain biking is in Victoria. Road is nowhere and everywhere, and BMX is currently nowhere (although efforts appear to be underway in Calgary). A strong regional program exists in Dieppe at the Atlantic Cycling Centre, and weaker ones in Ontario (McMaster and Hardwood). None of these programs appear to talk to each other very much or share resources.

On the road there is no national series, which is key to attracting new riders, and as a focus for domestic teams when they go looking for sponsors. The Canada Cup for mountain biking has become less and less relevant, except as a way to grab some UCI points, since it no longer results in inclusion on the national team. Track is crying out for a national series, especially after Lori-Ann Muenzer won gold in Athens. With tracks in Dieppe, Quebec City, Bromont, Detroit (the best Ontario can do, presently), Calgary, Edmonton, Burnaby and Victoria, this should be a no-brainer. It offers an excellent format to sell to sponsors, and much lower cost than either road or mountain bike. It also provides an excellent venue for bringing in new talent. China recently admitted that they targeted women's track racing as a relatively cheap and easy way to gain medals.

However, a linchpin for the success of any of these plans is marketing. The CCA failed to capitalize on their success in Atlanta, and had nothing to sell after Sydney. Athens has provided the CCA with a rare second chance, with the strong performance of Canadian cyclists, led by Lori-Ann and Marie-Helene Premont. Cycling is in a relatively strong position, and needs to capitalize on it now.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, the Board needs to recognize that they have to partner with experts. The Association appears to have taken a crucial first step by bringing in consultants to evaluate the position of the sport. Hopefully, they will continue to work with experts, rather than trying to do it themselves. Having said that, it is crucial that the Association provides the experts with the proper mandate; one that supports the long range goals of the Association.

I'm going conclude with almost the same list of recommendations I made 6 years ago which, sadly, are still relevant:

1. Contracting out marketing to a professional, arms-length agency. The agency would negotiate and liaise with clients, leaving the CCA administration and Board to focus on the sport.

2. Institute an Organizer Committee to assist and support current organizers, and to bring in new ones. The committee will also be involved in recruitment and training of organizers, and advocating on behalf of organizers at the CCA level.

3. Appoint a Media Relations Coordinator. Either a new position, or a reassignment of duties among existing staff to make sure that CCA news and information are released in a timely and consistent way to all media and provincial bodies. (Note: this has been happening in a more consistent way in the past year, but the person who was doing it has left)

4. A constitutional amendment that will limit any one person's term in a position to two consecutive terms, and a maximum of 4 terms in total per 10 year period. Our sport needs new blood, at every level. Too long has there been a rotation of the same faces at the top. Many of these people have done an excellent job, but it seems sometimes that people are staying on because they feel they have to in the absence of any other interested parties.

5. A series of cross-Canada open forums, attended by the CCA Executive Director and either the President or another Board member. These decision-makers are faceless to the cycling community, and have very little contact with the riders and enthusiasts who keep the sport going at all levels. These forums could be held either in conjunction with provincial Annual General Meetings, or at selected Canada Cups and National Championships. If Hein Verbruggen (President of the UCI) can hold a live internet chat session with the world community, then surely the CCA President and Executive Director can meet their public?

6. A requirement that all sponsorship agreements contain a clause that provides for a portion of funds be directed to development. This should be non-negotiable, and we suggest that a minimum of 20% be directed into Junior and Espoir projects, assisting less prosperous provinces to send riders to National Championships, and in Development Camps. Sponsorships should also be designed so that one sponsor can not "cherry pick" the top promotional activities without contributing to sport development.

This last proposal is likely to be extremely unpopular with some sponsors. However, the CCA has, in our view, been too quick to allow sponsors to tie up opportunities in a sport that has tremendous opportunities. Cycling accounted for one-sixth of the medals Canada won in Athens, and one-third of the golds. The CCA has to hire professionals to capitalize on their current market capabilities.

Post your comments on the Forums, and contact your provincial bodies to get involved.

 


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