Posted by Editoress on 12/5/05
One week ago, Pierre Blanchard won election in Whitehorse as the President of the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA). We had a chance to chat on the telephone with him late last week about what he hopes to accomplish in his new role over the next three years.
Canadian Cyclist - There was very little warning that you were going to run for President. When and what made you decide to run for the position?
Pierre Blanchard - It actually only started a week before the AGM (Annual General Meeting). I received a telephone call, asking me to consider running for this position (he declined to say who called - Ed.). Then I received some more telephone calls saying the same thing and I started to think about it more seriously.
I believe that the CCA is at a point where the sport could benefit from me. Bill (Kinash, the current President at the time) was there at a time when the CCA needed him, needed his skills, but we are at a point where the national federation can benefit from my skills.
CC - What do you mean - what skills are you referring to?
PB - I guess a little background would help. I am a pediatrician, I specialize in neonatal care and medical education. But my primary position with the College of Physicians and Surgeons is to work with faculties of medicine at the schools, to help maintain/develop standards for licencing. We make sure that those that are licenced are competent, and assess the licencing of international MD applicants. This means that I have to work with a lot of people across the country, comparing standards, reaching agreements and consensus on what is required. With this, and with my work as an international official, I can offer neutrality and experience bringing together different groups of people.
The other thing I can offer - and this is a difficult thing to say about yourself, but it is what I have been told in telephone conversations - is that I can offer leadership. Many people are not aware that the Quebec federation (of which Blanchard is the President - Ed.) has gone through some difficult times in the past few years, and I have had to deal with some difficult decisions. We had to replace the Director-General that we had just hired, and there were some other people as well.
My management style is to consult and listen a lot, to reach consensus - this is very important. But you cannot always reach consensus, and you must also be able to explain to people with divergent views why you didn't go their way. I believe that it is important to decide what is best and move ahead; you must make decisions, and key decisions should be communicated rapidly. At the same time, you must also be open to new data and realign if necessary. You won't please everybody all the time; that is the way in management. Transparency in decision-making is also very important - there is no need to hide things.
CC - You have mentioned your experience working with people, but not your international experience as a commissaire - I would have thought that this would be a key skill?
PB - Yes, you are correct, it is what people think of first, and it is very important. Now that the CCA office is stabilized, it is at the international level that the CCA will have to work, and I do have a lot of experience there. For all the talk about how international cycling is, it is still the European way that prevails, and there is a lot of work to be done.
For example, the international calendar requires five international teams for (high level) sanctioned events, and that is very difficult to do in North America, so it makes it difficult and expensive to put on big events in North America.
We need to do a lot of work with the continental federations as well, this is a very big problem. The UCI decided that North, South and Central America is one continent - the geography, the needs of North and South America are completely different. First we need to work on a decent (continental) calendar - our needs, our timing (ie, seasons) is different from South America. The selection criteria for the Olympics must have a new system; not this current system of chasing points.
The PanAm federation has its office in Cuba and all meetings in South America; all the countries are Spanish speaking ... Canada and the U.S. are only two voices here.
I know the majority of key people at the UCI, including the staff - I know all the coordinators in the Sport division quite well. I know Pat (McQuaid, President of the UCI), I have met him many times as an official and member of the Mountain Bike Commission. I know the presidents of the French, Italian and Belgian federations also. I think this will help Canada, and will give me some advantage on the international level.
Knowing the current politics will take some time, and it is a challenge to know the South American/Central American block - I have to brush up on my Spanish!
CC - We are talking about changes that need to be made at the international level - what other things do you want to accomplish?
PB - The number one priority is still to fix the office. A lot has been done, many good hirings, but there is still much to be done to be more effective.
Anti-doping is another key area. Anti-doping is something that the CCA should take a strong stand on, I feel. Parents are afraid to send their kids into cycling after all the news stories. I have received mixed messages from the federation (CCA), that the CCA didn't take anti-doping seriously. When we (Quebec federation) were dealing with the (Genevieve) Jeanson situation, the CCA did not support us as we would have liked.
In the Jeanson case, we (Quebec federation) had to decide to take a strong position. I received calls from parents afterwards, saying that they were reassured that the sport will take a strong stand (against doping). If a strong position is not taken, parents will take their kids to other sports.
We need to follow the athletes better. There is a belief, a thinking, that doping (is only a problem) in Europe - No! We have seen it unfortunately in mountain biking this year (Chris Sheppard). There is a strong message to be sent.
CC - What about development?
PB - The national federation should be helping the provinces, especially the smaller ones. My knowledge across Canada through my job and through officiating gives me some advantage. Like medicine, it is important for coaches and our National Training Centres to develop outreach programs. At the provincial level I believe in clubs, this is the most basic level where we reach the kids.
The Canadian Tire series was when I started to be involved (cycling) - it was fantastic, and and certainly something we need to work towards again. In mountain bike we have a national series, but no title sponsor. Communication is a key requirement - cycling is very popular, but we don't hear much on the TV, in the newspapers. We have to invest in marketing and communications.
I'm not sure we have the solution right now; we have to talk, consult. But the CCA needs to believe in the provinces - that is where development comes from. We are relyingtoo much on a few (top athletes); I am very scared that after they leave (retire) that there are not too many coming behind right now. Development is the place to put a lot of emphasis. When Alison (Sydor) is gone, when Lyne (Bessette) is gone ... I'm very scared.
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