Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Hoy's plea saves £43m funding.. but British Cycling give way to allow England's Regions a place on Board

Last Saturday a lively and controversial Extraordinary General Meeting of British Cycling in Warrington finally approved changes to the constitution as demanded by UK Sport’s proposals for Olympic funded sports.

But only after the governing body gave way to allow a crucial amendment to allow the 10 English Regions a place on the Board.

In a statement on British Cycling’s website, Julie Harrington, Chief Executive Officer of British Cycling, said:

“Today, British Cycling’s National Council voted in favour of changes to our constitution in order to ensure that we are compliant with the Code for Sports Governance. Our membership also voted for an amendment to create the role of a director nominated by the English regions to go alongside those nominated by Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling. We have heard the concerns of our National Councillors and we will actively work with our membership to ensure that the voice of the enthusiast remains central to our purpose.

“Securing funding for elite and grassroots participation through these changes will enable us to inspire more people on to two wheels across communities the length of the country. Without secured funding we will not be able to share our love of the sport and enable others to try it. Our sport is growing and growing up. Today’s vote is the start of an exciting new chapter for British Cycling and our sport.”

But it was anything but straight forward.

The following  story is gleaned from officials representing South East Region and Central Region who were at the forefront of the opposition to some of the proposals.

They faced a weekend of intense lobbying and debate. It ended with British Cycling succeeding in keeping its £43 government funding as National Council voted to accept the controversial new code of governance demanded by UK Sport and Sport England.

Bringing in Sir Chris  Hoy late last week to make an emotive plea to support the vote appears to have swung waverers. Hoy claimed that without funding he could never have achieved his six Olympic gold medals – a British record.

His intervention appears to have saved the Federation’s bacon – their jobs and funding!

British Cycling had feared their proposals would be rejected by National Council which had judged them to be too severe, that the changes would make National Council obsolete.

It became apparent to some on the eve of the EGM that BC management had underestimated the strength of feeling and as a result they climbed down on some of the points.

Crucially, this led to the acceptance of an amendment to the proposal by South East Region to allow the 10 English Regions representation on the new board to preserve National Council’s influence in board decisions.

That was the crux of the matter to most of  those opposed, including the South East’s Peter King.  The former CEO of British Cycling  had warned that National Council would likely reject British Cycling/UK Sports controversial changes to the organisation if National Council lost its voice.

However, Tony Doyle, former president of the British Cycling Federation, wanted the proposals rejected and to use the three month deadline he says was provided to negotiate a better deal. Funding would have been frozen during that period, not lost, he told me.

Doyle described those Regions which voted against their mandate as “Turncoats”.

 “I'm staggered by yesterday's outcome. Integrity is seriously in short supply amongst our National Councillors. Shame on them,” he said.

He says National Councillors were bullied into submission when they were told that 225 British Cycling staff would lose their jobs, and that the redundancy payments alone would cost the Federation £2.1 million.

Peter King didn’t take kindly to be called a “turncoat”, and neither, he ventured, will his fellow South East Region Councillors.  

King also objected to what he called a “challenge to my integrity” and called for perspective into the whole affair.

He and his fellow South East delegation had not disregarded their mandate, he says.

“The view of my colleagues, taken right at the end of the meeting when almost all of our proposals had succeeded, was that we were mandated to vote against the key proposal if it was not amended but that a view should be taken once the outcome of the amendment process was known.” 

But he added that even if all SE Region votes had been against, the proposals would still have succeeded. He added he cannot speak for the Central and South Votes.

King said his position at the EGM was exactly what it had been all the way through this, since his first discussion with Doyle.  “We agreed that modernisation was overdue and that we expected the proposals to be passed by the EGM.  We also agreed that if the proposals were to succeed then we needed to try to get them amended to mitigate the primacy of the Board and the authority of National Council.  In both respects those aims were achieved,” says King.

Doyle had wanted to bring to account those members of the Board and others he felt had brought the Federation into dispute in the recent past, while King’s intention, he says, was to “contribute to the necessary improvements in governance, direction and management going forward.”

However, the EGM is just the start of the affair! King says he has spoken to people at Regional meetings who don’t think the proposals go far enough. There is a sense of “an increasing disconnect between the Board and senior staff and the sport as we know it at local level.  These concerns now need to be addressed urgently. The question is, what do we do now?”

Central Region’s Stuart Benstead paid tribute to Peter King for the way he formulated the many amendments that re-shaped the documents into an acceptable form to National Council.

Benstead said it was recognised that further modernisation of the documents will be necessary. He said the task now was to elect the right people to what is likely to be an all-new national Board.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brailsford and his gymnastics stunt at the Rayner dinner

When I read about Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford bawling out

a cycling reporter on the Tour’s rest day for writing “S...” about him, it sounded very much like a Trump moment.

But it also reminded me of the time when I crossed swords – or words – with the great man.  Brailsford, that is. Not the American  President. 

My comments had been harmless but he didn’t take kindly to them, I learned. He politely chastised me when we next met. He gave me a steely smile. But there was no outburst.

Nevertheless, he had been clearly irritated by what I had written.  And I was very surprised, for I thought his stock had risen considerably by my observations. But no. Whoa, I thought.

The incident in question had occurred during that celebrated annual social occasion, the Dave Rayner Fund Raising Dinner. This must have been 2003 and I think it was held in Harrogate. Or was it Bradford?

No matter. I was covering the event for Cycling Weekly and Brailsford was there with several members of the World Class Performance team, some of whom may have benefited from Rayner funding in the past. At that stage in his career I think he was in a managerial role and had yet to be elevated to the top job of Performance Director prior to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Anyway, after the dinner and just before the auction of cycling memorabilia was to begin, many guests had repaired to the lounge bar. Everyone was in high spirits, as they usually are at a Rayner dinner – it’s a huge laugh, just as the late Dave Rayner himself was. Rayner was a charismatic and talented professional bike rider who died tragically young and whose name lives on by the inspired  creation of the Rayner Fund which has since provided countless youngsters with a springboard to the pro ranks.

So when I spotted Brailsford doing side to side cartwheels in the crowded hotel lounge, to the cheers of those around him who clearly appreciated this demonstration of kinesthetic awareness and flexibility - which it seems has been passed on to ace descender Froome  - I naturally included his excellent gymnastic stunt in my story.

A story intended as a light-hearted sketch of the proceedings and which perfectly reflected the nature of the event. Or so I thought.

Dave thought otherwise, I discovered a while later when reporting the opening gala night of the newly built Newport Velodrome in South Wales.

As I walked into the building someone tipped me off. Ooooh. He didn’t like what you had written about him. I should not have written about him doing cartwheels!

Mystified, I sought him out in the track centre and asked him if that was true. He said yes, he’d taken a dim view to my reporting him doing cartwheels.

They were perfect cartwheels, I told him. He smiled thinly. He’d rather I hadn’t written it.

Oh dear, come on Dave, lighten up! I remember saying. He grinned at that.

And that was that. We met on several press occasions after that and clearly the matter had been forgotten. 

But it left me surprised and disappointed. I could only surmise that he considered that such antics reported in the cycling press would not do his job prospects any good when in fact it can’t have done him any harm at all!

In fact! Well, not in fact, I am making this bit up. But I like to think that his boss, Peter Keen, who created the World Class Performance Plan in the first place,  thought that if he made Brailsford Performance Director, he might then “perform cartwheels”  around the opposition? 

(Or run circles around them, as the saying goes)

And so it has proved!

I mean, just look at him. Leaving out all the controversy of the recent past, here is the Mastermind behind the greatest haul of Olympic medals of any sport in Britain; he is the creator of Team Sky, top team in Le Tour.

And he does perfect cartwheels. 


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Can King save British Cycling - again?

WITH the cycling world in thrall to the Tour de France as it builds to its climax this weekend,  few will be aware of a battle of a different order this side of the Channel on Saturday (July 22). This is the race to save British Cycling from itself at an Extraordinary General Meeting organised in unseemly haste to make controversial changes to the constitution.

Both Peter King, the former CEO who created the new-look British Cycling 20 years ago, and Tony Doyle, a past president, have now gone public because they are profoundly concerned that the membership remains largely unaware of the controversy threatening to derail Britain's top Olympic sport.  

They and at least two of BC’s Regions (Central Region and South Eastern) fear that National Council – the voice of the 130,000 grass roots members – will be rendered almost obsolete as a consequence of satisfying British Cycling’s funding partners, UK Sport and Sport England, and their new code of governance.

Another likely consequence, if the grass roots sport suffers, is a  mass exodus of riders to other cycling organisations and the negative impact that will have for the sport.

According to British Cycling, the changes are all about improving Britain’s most successful Olympic sport. In reality they are being forced by the government to make changes to show they are fit for purpose after the spate of scandals lowered cycling’s esteem.

But if they don’t do what UK Sport want,  British Cycling risks losing £millions in government funding! And with it, also lose a fair number of the 300 or so jobs at British Cycling HQ.

Some call this blackmail.  Certainly, British Cycling is at the mercy of government quangos.

No one wants this. We’ve all enjoyed the unprecedented rise in popularity of cycling and cycle sport and the huge international successes by British riders. We want this to continue, for BC to move forward.

But not like this, not under a new and divisive constitution being rushed through without proper discussion by a board some say cannot be trusted.

It has been noted there are several omissions from the agenda; most notably there is no mention of the place of National Council!

Perhaps that’s because it is to become obsolete?

There is also concern that many problems have arisen because BC admin staff are having too much say in matters and their proposals are being accepted without being given proper scrutiny. It’s an authoritarian streak which crops up from time to time and National Council could always be relied upon to take the wind out of HQ’s sails!

It all points to a heated debate in Warrington next Saturday.

Both Peter King CBE, the former CEO who 20 years ago laid the foundations for British Cycling’s historic rise to fame and Tony Doyle, the former BC president whose ideas inspired the changes King brought about,  are appalled at the prospect of National Council being silenced.

If those two major players are flagging this up surely they must be listened to?

King, a chartered secretary and accountant, and member  of Redhill CC, was appointed CEO of the British Cycling Federation 20 years ago, called in to rescue the governing body from financial ruin and a crisis of their own making.

He carried out a root and branch reorganisation with the aim of making cycling Britain’s most successful Olympic sport and was awarded the CBE for doing so. The crisis of their own making was created when the board refused to work with newly elected President Tony Doyle MBE, the former World Professional Pursuit Champion who was chosen by the members to replace Ian Emmerson.

In doing so, the board were in breach of their own constitution and chaos followed resulting in an EGM and legal action which cost the Federation dear. The board was sacked and King set up a completely new team with the express intention of developing Doyle’s ideas for modernising the sport.

King says that “this EGM is all about making National Council a largely impotent and perhaps even pointless gathering.” ….

“My aim,” he said earlier this month, “is to ensure that all of those who represent the membership/clubs/regions at the EGM are aware of exactly what they are voting for or against – i.e. the transfer of ultimate authority from National Council to a Board where 6 out of 12 members, including the Chair with a casting vote, are not elected or appointed from within the sport.

“At the very least, the England Regions should have the right to elect the four members who will be elected by National Council.”

He is especially concerned that the Chair will have a casting vote on any contentious issue…and that the balance of power will sit with the independent appointed directors.”

For these so called independent directors  might not necessarily have much experience of the sport, but still be able to wield undue influence!

Last week King and Doyle shared their views at the Pedal Club luncheon in London, whose members include many top Regional and national officials.

On the table are proposals for wholesale changes to the management structure and board.

It is a serious matter.

To a certain extent it is felt that British cycling have brought much of this upon themselves following their failure to act on the King Report of 2012. It was Peter King’s Review, commissioned by British Cycling, which revealed how some elite athletes had been subject to bullying and sexism in the drive for medals.  This so shocked British Cycling they failed to do anything about it. And nothing of the report was made public until  recently.

The affair only became public knowledge last year when Jess Varnish, dropped from the Olympic team, broke her silence.   She was followed by other riders claiming similar experiences.

As we know, the whole sorry tale has since been paraded before a Parliamentary Committee when matters were made much worse by British Cycling top brass failing to provide adequate explanations. 
No wonder UK Sport want BC to put their house in order if they are to be seen fit to continue to receive £millions in public money.

But why is it necessary to make National Council all but obsolete? That’s the argument.

Should National Council pass all proposals as they stand the balance of power will shift from National Council – representing the Regional members -  to British Cycling’s new style  management which it  is feared will be under the thumb of UK Sport.

Any other organisation proposing major changes to its operation would spell out the pros and cons for its shareholders to consider.

Have BC done this with members?

Doesn’t look like it. They fear losing the money. Who wouldn’t?

So they’ve sweet talked the whole thing which leads some to conclude they want members kept in the dark about the down side.

This is akin to changing the locks to the building while everyone is out - watching Le Tour, for instance.

Except that both South East and Central Regions have rumbled them. They have recognised the issues and on Saturday will debate and vote accordingly in the hope of preserving National Council’s democratic right to have a say in the running the sport.