Mad, swivel-eyed cyclists.

There has been much publicity about senior members of a large UK political party referring to their unpaid volunteers as ‘Mad, swivel-eyed loons’. Seemingly showing little or no respect for the individuals who carry out their ground work, knocking on doors & passing on their propaganda, all for ‘the greater good’. They appear to think these people are mad for ensuring the self-appointed ‘elite’ stay in their large mansions & their workplaces littered with bars, expense claims & a privileged lifestyle (until they’re found out of course).

Could we have also found this has permeated other levels of government, such as sport, which after lottery funding and the search for Olympic medals, has become an extension of the political machine. Could the same attitudes have worked their way into our beloved sport too, are our unpaid volunteers seen as mad, swivel-eyed cyclists and are guffawed at from the offices of our governing bodies, is a new culture forming?


We’re losing great events every year, UK road racing’s most important series, the Premier Calendar is shrinking annually, with organisers citing the lack of support they receive from British Cycling, who have their lottery funding ring-fenced for specific purposes in the pursuit of Olympic Medals, this keep the masses happy every 4 years & generates some national pride in our sporting heroes. This leaves the national race series in trouble, and the governing bodies in tricky situations, what do they use to fund something that they have no budget to fund? If we hark back to the bad old days, when British riders won nothing internationally & riders racing the world championships for Britain had to buy their own skinsuit, or give back the old one, that’s the level of funding we’re at without ring-fenced lottery funding & (Sky) sponsorship. The issue is possibly negotiation, the money is flowing into the sport, it’s being spent very frugally with the purpose of winning medals, everything down to strict budgets to make it go the furthest. Some more of that needs diverted to develop the bottom half of the pyramid, so we can develop more riders and give them aspirational race series to target, currently the Premier Calendar events are so few & far between that the series standings are less & less important. The same need to be done for the Junior road race series, I don’t think I’ve seen any publicity for the Peter Buckley’s this year, are they still running?

Meanwhile the grass-roots of many of our successful Olympic sports are suffering, volunteers are expected to do more, to be ‘managed’ & attain self-improvement by standards set from those who have likely never volunteered for anything in their lives. The cracks are starting to appear, even in our own little community in Scotland, with relatively few events the effects are much more noticeable & in a tight-knit community, word travels fast, well, it travels at lightning speed to be honest. I’ve had several ‘communications’ over the last few weeks, some I’m not going to publish, I’d prefer to encourage debate & get the situation sorted before things get out of hand. The riders & volunteers need communication about what exactly is going on, I’ve raised a few issues recently along with many others, but the silence is deafening. There’s not much information coming out about what riders, clubs & organisers are interested in, the calendar, issues with promoting events, getting support from the governing body etc.

We also need to know when the Scottish Championships are going to be allocated, see my previous post on this subject. That blog was widely circulated & debated, I’m aware that some SC staff have read it, but there’s still no clarity, no response, no championship allocations published. We deserve better than this, I’m sure all the championships were allocated when we had a skeleton staff & volunteers operating out of the salubrious portakabins situated next to Meadowbank, what’s changed?

Some Examples…

The fact is that we are losing events in Scotland right now…

The Meadowbank Grand Prix, “Despite significant efforts and negotiation, the funding required to allow the promotion to continue has not been able to be secured in time, despite funds being available.  It is regrettable that in the circumstances it was not possible to obtain the necessary co-operation of the governing bodies to ensure the promotion of this years event, resulting in the loss of Scotland’s biggest major track cycling event featuring international riders and the loss of three major British national league events (Sprint, Endurance and Womens Omnium).”

The Dundee Stage Race was blighted by governing body indecision over insurance, with a failure to get a coherent answer on whether or not the event was covered, which resulted in its cancellation this year. The volunteer organiser was left facing possible damages when the police told him the course was subject to section 7 of the road traffic act, rather than the normal section 5 regulations, after the organiser spoke at length to the police on this. The police queried whether the standard insurance Scottish Cycling offer through British Cycling would cover the event, a question the organiser had to refer to Scottish Cycling head office. But this meant that the standard insurance Scottish Cycling offer through British Cycling may not cover the event. The issue could have been resolved by getting clarification, but that clarification never appeared. “There needs to be much better support for organisers, and for staff to actually be trained in the area they are administering.”

Over the last couple of years there have also been mumblings of discontent from several established race organisers, who were having trouble dealing with Scottish Cycling. We’ve had various calendar issues recently too, the early events didn’t appear in the British Cycling handbook, which you’d assume involves sending a list of events, which we know each of the ‘Centres’ (groups formed by representatives of local clubs in each region) submitted the events correctly.

The Remedies?

Openness & communication, not just focussing on the media luvvy events like the British Road champs & the Commonwealth Games, because once they’re over & done, anything that’s been left by the wayside will be in dire need of some tender loving care. One organiser told me that “Simple things, like aswering emails with something other than a stony silence would be a start”.

Clearly defined roles within some governing bodies are also a potential big issue, with staff being pulled in all directions & not having time to do the job they were initially employed to carry out. This isn’t an issue with the actual staff (so please don’t take it out on them in any organisation, they’re just as frustrated as you are, unless they’re rude of course). As I pointed out in the opening paragraph, the issue in these types of bodies is often right at the top, a culture of taking volunteers for granted by individuals who are generally not in touch with the subject matter they are dealing with.

The ‘foot soldiers’ on the end of the telephone are the ones who take the flak for poor decision-making further up the line, these are the one’s we generally have to deal with & voice our concerns (imagine your last conversation with a call centre, it’s not pleasant for you or the telephone operator). There are some great people at Scottish Cycling, but it seems like they’re not being given the opportunity to provide their input or use their skills correctly, otherwise things would be a lot different. The people at the top are generally shielded from us ‘mad, swivel-eyed cyclists’, the ones who keep the sport going, who give up our time for nothing or more often than not at our own expense. If you have any issues, it could be wise to pass the information on to the Chief Executive Craig Burn, his email is below. The board members are also all volunteers, you can find their mail addresses on that link too. It’s perhaps time that the shields come down & you tell them, in a structured and polite manner, what you think the future role of Scottish Cycling and what they can do a little differently that would make a huge difference. We’re probably not talking huge changes, just a few adjustments to give us the governing body we can all be proud of, go on, give it a go. No nasties now, keep it pleasant and constructive please & we can all move on in 2014, it’s going to be a great year with everybody’s help & cyclists in Scotland working together in a cohesive manner.

Link to Scottish Cycling board members email addresses.

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