Wednesday, 8 November 2017

BRITISH CYCLING AGM: what next in their box of tricks?

British Cycling, famous as the UK’s top Olympic sport this Millennium, is desperate to restore its reputation tarnished by allegations of bullying and sexism which came to light 18 months ago.
In just over a week’s time, four months after springing that Extraordinary General Meeting on a sleeping membership on the final weekend of the Tour de France(!), they will take another step towards redemption when a new board of directors are elected at the agm at Crewe, Cheshire, on November 18.
But doubts remain that this will truly be a clean break with the past. A reliable source tells me there is the prospect that the “new” Board will remain under the control of a majority of previous Board members who were obliged to step down after their failure to manage the whole sorry episode which landed BC in the dog house in the first place.
Delegates are additionally concerned at the prospect that four new independent board members may bring undue government influence to bear on British Cycling at a cost to grass roots development as they establish policies to safeguard the welfare of elite riders and staff. 
For it was UK Sport who demanded these changes.
It is now four months since the controversial, hurriedly organised EGM in July sought National Council’s approval to make changes to the constitution, under threat of losing the £43 million Olympic funding if they did not bend the knee to their pay masters.
British Cycling was desperate to do as bid and after a lot of strife they got what they wanted and the vote was won.
But the orchestration of their campaign was breathless stuff. At the thought of possibly losing the vote, at the last minute they roped in Olympic hero Chris Hoy to make an emotive plea on their behalf.  It was masterful trick and it seemed to work.
But there was good news for the 10 England Regions when perhaps the most contentious issue of all was settled and National Council retained its democratic right to hold the balance of power.   The EGM granted an amendment, tabled by South East Region, to allow the England Regions a place on the new board.
The fact that the England Regions, comprising the largest membership of British Cycling, were not originally granted that place speaks volumes.  Scotland and Wales were represented. Why not England?
There had been a huge concern that without England having a place on the board, National Council, the voice of the grass roots, would effectively be silenced.
British Cycling without National Council would become like government without Parliament – Theresa May’s preference when taking decisions over Brexit - authoritarian.
Notwithstanding that the balance has been addressed, for some delegates British Cycling still needs to demonstrate the sport can continue to prosper, across all disciplines, for all members, and not just for the elite pursuing Olympic medals.
But in the light of a 37-page annual report which I understand makes scant reference to regional development, National Council may need more reassurance.
The new board is intended to form the basis of the new-look management structure demanded of all Olympic sports. They are all obliged to adopt UK Sport and Sport England’s new Code of Governance on condition of continuing to receive Olympic funding.
This code is to safeguard the health and welfare of athletes and staff, to nip in the bud any behavioural problems. Ours is not the only sport with a problem. Swimming is another.   In cycling’s case the new code has particular relevance to the allegations in the 2012 King report which revealed sexism and bullying allegations.
It made matters worse that the full contents of that report were kept from the board for some time and known only to two or three individuals at British Cycling, an issue which still remains to be cleared up.  
BC kept the whole thing quiet until compromised by a whistle-blower, Olympian Jane Varnish some 18 months ago, over her questionable dismissal from the Olympic squad.  It prompted other riders to come out in support, with their own issues.
It led to the Parliamentary Committee who looked into this affair to declare British Cycling unfit to govern. And while that may have vindicated, quite rightly, all who have been damaged by this affair, it was a hard blow to the morale of an organisation which has truly taken the sport to new heights these past two decades.
How to get back on track?
BC insist they have since addressed all of these issues!
It is to the make sure they do that UK Sport called for the changes in BC’s management structure that have caused such unrest. Many felt the changes called for went too far, too fast, and this is what drove Peter King and others, including former president and double world champion Tony Doyle to take a stand at the EGM in July.
King says of course all members want to see the Olympic success of British Cycling continue, but he is worried at what he sees is a huge disconnect between BC and the members. He is especially concerned that grass roots will be neglected as a consequence of the direction UK Sport is insisting upon.
For  it was King  - who coincidentally stepped in to rebuild the Federation in a big shake up 20 years ago, setting cycling on its revolutionary  medal winning course –  who argued for South East Region’s amendment to permit an England Region representative on the board.  
Subsequently, King has been nominated to become the England Regions board member and he hopes to influence others on the board to address the issues dearest to his heart.
This whole affair had witnessed heated exchanges both at the EGM and during the evening before, when in a move which disturbed many, British Cycling executives led by President Bob Howden, put delegates - already mandated by their Regions - under pressure to vote for the proposals because if they didn’t, BC would losing £43m funding and 225 jobs.  
No wonder that Doyle says he took a dim view of an email BC sent to National Councillors recently, warning against collusion… “To intentionally restrict the number of votes for other candidates and to gain a clear advantage in the voting process.”

The email pointed out … “such collusion is contrary to the spirit and intent of an election process ….”

Doyle wondered at the brass neck of this declaring that it is all very well to speak of  “spirit and intent” when BC employed questionable methods to  promote their agenda this year, both on the lead up to and on the eve of the EGM itself.

“Integrity and honesty was being ignored by BC and they forced their decision on the membership,” says Doyle.

Peter King for all his concerns remains optimistic, saying he is relieved that National Council will continue to hold management to account. 
“Yes, the ‘cycling family’ retains control,” he says.  “Of all the amendments I proposed this was the key one.  Out of a total of 12 on the board we will now have three directors nominated by the home countries and four elected by National Council.  There will be four independent appointed directors, one of whom will be the Chair, and the 12th director will be the CEO.” (Julie Harrington). 
The nominees are:
President: Rob Howden (seeking re-election, unopposed).
Chair: Jonathan Browning could be re-appointed.
Four non-executive directors (from the five nominated) –
Wendy Cull North West Region.

Graham  Elliott Eastern Region.

George Gilbert Eastern Region.

Dan Harris Central Region.

Richard Lodge West Midlands Region.

Marion Lauder – On-going appointment.
Alex Russell – On-going appointment.

Additionally, the following three nominations have been approved as non-executive directors:

Peter King, England Regions; Alasdair MacLennan Scottish Cyclists’ Union;

Nicholas Smith Welsh Cycling Union.