Canadian Cyclist


September 21/22 13:15 pm - Athletes Pay to Play at the Worlds

Posted by Editoress on 09/21/22

Last week, Cycling Canada announced the names of the 20 riders who will represent Canada at the Road world championships in Wollongong, Australia. While the selections always lead to debates, this year's were particularly .... contentious.

None of Canada's WorldTour men are attending. There are a number of reasons - their pro teams need them racing in Europe to collect points because of the looming relegation issue for some teams; riders feel the parcours don't suit them or don't want to disrupt their form with a very long trip there and back; and, the one that is gaining the most publicity, being required to pay their own travel costs. Hugo Houle has spoken about this with Quebec media, and said to me bluntly when I asked him before the GP Cycliste Quebec why he wasn't attending : "Cycling Canada has no money to send us".

Canada is not alone in having financial concerns - New Zealand has announced a skeleton squad, with the cost of bringing pros from Europe an issue. The U.S. just announced that MTB and Gravel rider Keegan Swenson will take one of their vacant spots. And France, in an extremely ill-conceived move, sent the pro men in business class seats while the women had to fly economy to save money, garnering lots of bad publicity.

So, what is the Canadian situation exactly?

• Every member of the Worlds team will be responsible for their travel costs, including baggage (which can be substantial when travelling with multiple bikes)
• Junior and Under-23 riders are additionally charged a project fee of $1250 for riders doing both the Road Race and Time Trial; $1000 for riders just doing the Road Race

Project fees aren't a new thing for Junior and Under-23 riders, but having Elite pros pay their way is more rare, and contentious.

As to why, Cycling Canada sent us some 'talking points' on their decision:

This year's Road World Championships in Australia are incredibly expensive and in speaking with many other national cycling federations, we're not alone in having to deal with these increased costs. We have committed to fielding teams in every category and with a larger team, comes additional costs.

Our goal will always be to reduce project fees to as little as possible. Unfortunately, at this point, Cycling Canada is still in a position where we need to charge project fees, in order to be able to offer robust programming opportunities across all disciplines.

For the 2022/23 fiscal year, project fees represent roughly 5% of the total High-Performance budget and we're constantly working to increase our revenue, in order to reduce project fees further.

Junior and U23 athletes are being asked to pay a $1250.00 project fee and for their flights to this year's World Championships. Elite athletes are being asked to pay for only their flight. As a point of reference, the cost to attend Junior Track Cycling Worlds this [year] in Tel Aviv, Israel, was $1500.00 plus the cost of the flight. We are working to make project fees as similar as possible between disciplines. However, more expensive projects like Junior Track Worlds in Israel or Road Worlds in Australia currently still have a larger project fee.

We have budgeted $110,000.00 for accommodation, staffing, transportation and baggage at this year's World Championships and, given the increased cost of nearly everything related to international travel, this amount will most likely increase.

Our budget for World Championships represents 1/3 of our annual road competition budget, with the remainder being spent on numerous Junior and U23 Development Projects in both Canada and Europe.

The budget of $110,000 before athlete flights is a substantial amount of money, and athlete flights for 20 riders could easily add as much as $60,000 more. I can attest that the cost of flights to Australia are higher than they have ever been, having travelled there at least eight times for various world championships, World Cups and Commonwealth Games (twice).

Cycling Canada is also correct in pointing out that they have made a substantial increase in the number of international projects on the road for Junior and Under-23 athletes, something that we definitely endorse.

A complete list of this year's projects include:

GPCQM (September 7-12), 8 Elite and U23 Athletes
U23 Women Summer Project (August 24 - September 12), 7 U23 Athletes
Junior Women Summer Project (August 23 - September 12), 8 Junior Athletes
Junior Men Summer Project (July 19 - August 8), 6 Junior Athletes
Tour de L'Avenir (August 18-28), 6 U23 Athletes
Commonwealth Games (July 27 - August 7), 3 Elite Men, 2 U23 Men, 4 Elite Women, 1 U23 Women
Tour de l'Abitibi (July 11 - July 17), 6 Junior Athletes
Course de la Paix (June 2 - June 5), 6 U23 Athletes
Junior Men Spring Project (May 22 - June 13), 6 Junior Athletes
Gent-Wevelgem (March 27), 6 U23 Athletes
Junior Women Spring Project (April 22 - May 8), 7 Junior Athletes

All of these projects required athletes to pay their own travel costs and a $500/week project fee ($75/day if a shorter project).

Philosophically, we believe that athletes should not be required to pay to represent their country if they are selected to do so, and having to incur these costs certainly impacts the ability of some less advantaged athletes to participate. However, practically, if this was done (ie, the federation covered all costs) the number of athletes that could be sent would be substantially lower.

Scott Kelly, the Chief Sport Officer at Cycling Canada, pointed out that when the world championships are in Europe, typical flight costs for staff such as soigneurs and mechanics (based in Europe) are less than $500 - he gave one example that last year they paid $415 for a flight, and this year the same person's flight cost $3000. Even for staff travelling from Canada to Europe it is 50% cheaper than sending them to Australia. In addition, in Europe, the national program has a number of vehicles that they can use, but in Australia everything has to be rented, and the cost of rentals has gone up significantly.

Kelly says, "We won’t know the total cost of baggage until everything is said and done, but suffice it to say, it'll be more than the past few years. We have a base located in Belgium where we keep a lot of the equipment and supplies that is used by our National team throughout the year. We've been fortunate in that we've been able to borrow a fair amount of equipment in Australia, but everything we are not able to borrow, needs to flown in, or purchased on site."

The only way to deal with this issue is for Cycling Canada to have more funding to cover these costs. The Sport Canada/Own the Podium money the federation receives is based on a funding formula spread across many sports, and it is highly unlikely that cycling will receive a large boost, so this leaves other sources of revenue that can be put towards covering project costs.

We have said many times over the years that fundraising is an area that Cycling Canada has not been particularly successful at - in our opinion. But fundraising/sponsorship is something that many sports struggle with, especially in this post-pandemic era of high inflation. Private groups, such as Bridge the Gap, can help, but can only do so much. What is really needed is a longterm, committed sponsor or, ideally, a substantial legacy fund specifically for this purpose.

Right now, Cycling Canada is - in our opinion - making the best of a bad situation. However, it is an issue that is going to continue to restrict the abilities of some promising athletes to advance in the sport, unless serious efforts are made to develop alternate sources of funding. This should be one of the highest priorities for the Board of Cycling Canada.


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