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.

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