Sunday, 25 June 2017

CLASH OF THE CENTURY - British Cycling EGM V Le Tour

HOW do we alert British Cycling’s 133,000 membership to a great wrong to be committed in their name at July’s Extraordinary General Meeting? The warning came first from two former top British Cycling executives earlier this month and has since been taken up by various Regional officials.

Strangely, the EGM is timed at the height of summer holiday season when it is likely many members will be on  holiday, not to mention it also clashes with something else that weekend,  the final weekend of the Tour de France.

At stake, I understand, is the memberships’ democratic right to hold the Board to account if the balance of power shifts from National Council to the Board.

The EGM is to approve UK Sport’s new code of governance which is being rushed out and, in cycling’s case, with too little time for informed discussion. The new code is being applied to all Olympic sports. 

For British Cycling this means changing the constitution and the makeup of the Board, to make everyone more accountable in the aftermath of the scandal of sexism and bullying of top riders which rocked the sport last year, 

BC will be required to show they are operating a duty of care  to all their elite riders and staff, especially those under pressure, striving to push the boundaries of physical and mental endeavour in the quest to satisfy British Cycling’s and UK Sport’s “results driven ethic” - as one newspaper writer has called it. 

However, those who read between the lines say this is all very well, but it comes with a cost.  If all the pieces of UK Sports jigsaw fall into place, National Council - the voice of the rank and file members– will have been muted, perhaps silenced for the first time in 60 years.

Concerns over local racing, the bread and butter events of the rank and file, may go unheeded, especially if the four new “independent” board members have little knowledge of grass roots sport and have undue influence.  The hope has to be they are cyclists, not government puppets.

Clearly,   BC is under a lot of pressure from UK Sport and Sport England who provide them £millions in funding.

And the pressure was turned up high once again  last week when the Independent Review Panel’s final and damning report on British Cycling was published  - a whitewash many call it, because it’s a toned down version of the early draft leaked a few months before.

Nevertheless, its publication means cycling’s dirty washing was  once again on display, reminding us all of how the most successful British Olympic sport this Millennium  became the laughing stock of the nation,  the subject of an MP’s enquiry into bullying and sexism and a culture of fear at the National governing body.

And now there are calls for the board to be sacked, for the chairman to stand down.

There are so many threads to this story, perhaps none more important than this. It is understand BC knew  of such issues five years ago, revealed in the King Report of 2012. But did nothing about them.  This was on Brian Cookson’s watch, who was then president and is now UCI chief. 

Peter King, CBE, the former CEO, had been commissioned to carry out an internal review by the man who succeeded him as chief executive, Ian Drake who resigned earlier this year.

King interviewed 40 personnel on an agreement of anonymity.

The story goes that only two, perhaps three people at BC saw the full King report.   And they were so shocked by it they sat on it, covered it up. The full contents were never fully shared with others on the board. 
Even UK Sport were only shown a watered down version of the report when it was published in 2016.

It is this torrid complicated affair which has led UK Sport to call for stricter controls at BC.

And this brings us back to what this  may mean for the rank and file.  Why, in order to address these concerns, should it be necessary to strip away the fundamental right of members to have their say at National Council?  

The worry, says a former top BC executive, is that members will only read BC’s happy clappy presentation of the proposals before them, and will not see the hidden cost to them!

Although most of the proposals appear sensible in principle, the Devil is in the detail, say critics.  For instance, it is feared less attention will be paid to grass roots racing as more emphasis is placed on elite competition, something BC deny.

Members are urged to attend their local Regional meetings over the coming few weeks, in order to decide how to mandate their representatives to vote at the EGM on Saturday, July 22. 

The hope is that the active members of the Regions, those that sit on the boards and committees, get to grips with this before the EGM meeting where the vote will be taken.

One Regional official said that a constitutional change will require a two thirds majority to pass. So it’s by no means certain the vote will go the Board’s way. 

The BC South East Regional Meeting is on July 10, to discuss the agenda of the EGM and to mandate their National Councillors to vote the way the members have chosen).

BC top brass: ‘all will be well’

British Cycling President Bob Howden promises all will be well, that the changes will benefit all, from elite to grass roots.  

Here’s Bob, quoted from BC’s website:

These changes to our constitution are necessary and timely. Every member of the National Council is intent on making British Cycling a world-class governing body. It is our belief that by ensuring that our organisation has professional, balanced governance, the whole of our sport will benefit – from the grassroots to the podium.”

And here’s BC Chairman Jonathan Browning, who similarly reassures members that the sport will see improved benefits:

“Since becoming Chair in February, we have quickly steered through widespread changes to British Cycling’s leadership and governance, some of which still require final approval at our EGM on 22 July. Our proposals to alter the Board and the recruitment of new senior executives, demonstrates our commitment to professionalise and significantly improve the governance, transparency and strength of our sport – for the good of all involved.”

 Regional critics:  members will quit

However, in the Regions the feeling is that EGM could spell disaster for the sport.

Here’s what they are saying:

*Looks as if the needs of grass roots are a very much lower priority. 

*We cannot trust the BC members on the Board so what confidence will we have if the Board is effectively controlled by the Independent members.

*Forecast:  mass migration to other cycling organisations …a disaster as loss of grass root members will affect the funding of the Elite Riders and we all want our international success to long continue.

*Remember, the Surrey League opted out of BC control for a period number of years ago.

*Solution?: British Cycling split into two, the present Board with overall control but with a sub organisation driven by the members who will complete control of the grass roots sport. 

*The board are the biggest part of the problem.

*Complete lack of transparency, poor communication.

The clash: EGM V Le Tour

Who worked that out? Yes, JULY 22, the day of the EGM is also the final weekend of Le Tour. The EGM is in Warrington on the same day as the penultimate stage of the Tour de France in Marseille. This is a time trial which a certain triple British Tour winner, Chris Froome will be hoping to win. It which almost certainly decide the overall outcome in Paris the following day. 

Where to go? Warrington versus Marseille/Paris? 

Clearly, Regional Officers with a conscious will be wrestling with that one. But those with holidays booked, what do they do? Pull out of the family holiday?

Would the Football Association schedule an EGM on the same day as the FA Cup final? Or on the day England (a dream) were playing in the final of the World Cup?

I mean, what was BC thinking? Perhaps they mean to hire a big screen for the afternoon's live broadcast of the TT and hold the EGM in the evening.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

POWER struggle at British Cycling threatens members' rights

TWO former high-ranking officials of British Cycling have expressed their concern that the balance of power will shift from National Council to the Board if draft proposals designed to appease the government are approved at a hastily arranged Extraordinary General Meeting scheduled for July 22.   The England Regions with by far the largest share of membership stand to lose out the most.

It is feared that the new look Board will allow government to exert greater influence on the sport. And that the Board may no longer be answerable to the 125,000 strong membership represented by National Council, an historic right of this membership organisation.

At present HQ representatives are touring the Regions to outline details of the draft proposals. This is to enable members to mandate their representatives on how to vote at the EGM.

It is vital the membership insist that capable cycling officials are elected to that Board, say my two sources. 

But the response from members was poor at the South Region meeting last month, with only six people out of a membership of 11,000 turning out.

I understand that a cycling media reporter  was denied sight of the proposals when he asked BC HQ for a copy.  Which begs the question what are they afraid of?

Is this the fallout from last years’ bad press and the grilling by a Parliamentary committee which made Britain’s number one Olympic Sport a laughing stock?  

There was the furore in the Press over the legally permitted use of an otherwise banned powerful drug by Bradley Wiggins for his breathing allergies just before three of his Tour de France starts - including the historic 2012 edition which he famously won.

It was established this was legal. But was it ethical?  Given Sky’s oft repeated mantra that they do it clean, they only had themselves to blame for the public interest in this story. 

There followed more angst  when suspicion was raised – in the Daily (Hate) Mail -  casting aspersions on the contents of a jiffy bag flown from BC headquarters in Manchester to Team Sky in France. UK Anti-Doping began to investigate “possible wrong doing”.

BC officials appearing before the Parliamentary Committee pleaded that they were bound by confidentiality not to reveal the jiffy bag’s contents. But this only further heightened suspicion.   Finally Team Sky revealed that the contents were an over the counter medicine for Wiggins’ allergies.

But when asked for the medical records to support this claim, the MPs learned from BC’s Doctor that his lap top containing the records had been stolen! (Unbelievable)


On top of this, British Cycling were facing accusations of sexism and bullying by a number of leading women internationals, and were finally forced to admit it.

So all in all, a public relations disaster for British Cycling and Team Sky who made things worse by their poor handling of the whole affair.  

So that brings us to the here and now.

The hastily arranged EGM in July appears to have been called to pacify UK Sport and Sport England who not surprisingly want BC to put their house in order if they are  to continue to receive the £millions in annual funding from the public purse.  

However, it is feared the changes called for in the board’s structure will lead to a greater focus on elite cycling and the Olympic medal programme than on development of the grass roots cycling.

Who are my two anonymous sources?  Let’s just say they played a major part in dragging the national governing body out of crisis some 20 years ago, helping to set British Cycling on course to become the most successful UK Olympic sport of the new Millennium.

Here is what they told me:

The current BCF Board and the current Senior Management are fiercely preaching major changes to the make-up and constitution of the BCF.

Regional meetings are currently taking place with the Board advocating the below mantra. All these changes are being introduced to appease both UK Sport & Sport England.

 British Cycling/BCF is a members organisation (currently membership 125,000) and it's objects are 'to promote and control the sport and pastime of cycling in all its forms amongst all sections of the community', 'to support and protect the interests of their members, by all such lawful means as the National Council of the BCF think fit'

The current Board and Leadership just want to secure it's funding from UK Sport to concentrate on its elite programme concentrating on the athletes/coaching at the top of the pyramid.

These are the changes that the Board is rushing through with an EGM taking place on July 22nd:

As it stands, the National Council is the superior democratic body in BC and comprises the elected representatives of the members, through their clubs and up through the elected National Councillors.  In essence, the Board is ultimately answerable to the National Council.  The proposals being advanced by the Board will reverse this relationship.

The proposal to halve the number of National Councillors makes sense to enable better informed discussion – but only if voting rights are removed from Board members.  There is also a discussion being prompted about the rights of Past Presidents to attend and vote at meetings of the National Council.

There is going to be a discussion about imposing terms of office on National Councillors.

The proposed new structure of the Board includes only four members elected by NC but gives Scotland and Wales the right to appoint one Director each.  This is a fudge to get a total of six Board members from the cycling community (out of 12) because UK Sport and Sport England will, apparently, allow us to elect no more than one third of the total. 

What it does do, however, is give the right to elect or appoint one director to Scotland (who have eight percent of the membership) and to Wales (who have five percent) while also allowing both countries to vote for the other four places at National Council – reserving NONE AT ALL FOR THE ENGLAND REGIONS despite England holding 87% of the membership.

  If the sport has to accept this fudge then the least it can do is ensure that only the England Regions are able to vote for the four available positions. 

The President will no longer be a voting member of the Board but will be entitled to attend Board meetings and participate in discussions.  There is an on-going discussion about the term of office of the President.

The Chair will be an independent and appointed position – so as the Chair always has a casting vote the six “cycling” representatives on the Board could, in theory, be out-voted on a contentious issue.

The remaining Board members will be four independent/appointed plus the CEO.

All of the elected directors presently on the Board are due to stand down at this year’s National Council and only George Gilbert can stand for re-election.  This presupposes that Messrs Alasdair Maclennan and Nick Smith will stand down and be appointed by Scotland and Wales respectively.

My other source reiterated what is said above:  

He said the proposals do give cause for alarm and if Regions and Home Countries are to approve them they will need to be clear what they are voting for.  It is true that the balance of power will shift from National Council to the Board – with the members, clubs and Regions only able to elect four of the twelve members of the Board. 

The balance will be somewhat restored by giving Scotland and Wales the right to nominate one Board member each but this may not sit comfortably with the England Regions, given that Scotland accounts for only eight percent of the total BC membership and Wales accounts for just five percent. 

 As it stands, that leaves the England Regions, who together account for 87% of the membership, with no right to directly nominate Board members, while having to stand alongside Scotland and Wales in voting for the four elected members.  It has been suggested that, at the very least, only the England Regions should be entitled to vote in that election.

The CEO will automatically be a member of the Board and the remaining 5 (including the Chair) will all be independent appointments, no doubt all influenced to a greater or lesser degree by UK Sport and/or Sport England.  Given that the Chair will have a casting vote on any contentious issue the balance of power will sit with the independent appointed directors.

Sadly, our status with our funding partners seems to have fallen to the point where we cannot resist in whole or part the conditions they are imposing on us.  At the same time, Rowing have been allowed to re-appoint a Chair who comes from the sport and the Members Council of UK Athletics remains the senior body, to which the Board reports .

There are other things in the proposals to worry about but, at the end of the day, they are likely to be approved because of apathy among members, clubs and regions (only

six attendees at the South Region meeting out of a membership of over 11,000) and the pressure and speed with which this is all planned to be implemented.

Assuming the proposals are approved at the EGM all of the elected members currently on the Board will step down at National Council in November and only George Gilbert can put himself forward for re-election.  It is going to be vitally important that the members/clubs/regions identify and elect form among their number people who know the sport and are prepared to represent them actively and knowledgeably on the Board, even when those representing the cycling family are in a minority.