The 20 Year Scandal Cycle

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“The tranquil world of cycling has been turned upside down by allegations of misconduct and lax financial controls at its ruling body, the British Cycling Federation.”

(Independent, 1996)

For those who were not involved in cycling 20 years ago, the current turmoil going on in British Cycling may seem like something new, it may come as some surprise that there were scandals in the same organisation 20 years ago. For some of us, it just looks like an ongoing theme in sports governing bodies which will always happen, a cycle of scandal.


Some of you may recall that the privileged & disconnected world of the BCF board was brought to an abrupt halt by Tony Doyle in 1996, the former Six Day star being voted in as President, running a campaign “after grassroots complaints that the leadership was not doing enough to promote the sport. Mr Doyle ran on a ticket calling for greater transparency from the board and increased accountability to the membership.” What Tony Doyle uncovered shocked him, as the Independent article highlights, there was also a negative PR campaign run against him in order to discredit him. A particularly nasty period in the UK’s main cycling governing body’s history, which had seemingly been rectified by a complete restructuring & winning multiple Olympic & World Championship medals. The issue was even raised in Parliament by an MP, you can read the full Hansard transcript here or in the easier to read ‘They Work For You‘ version.

The main points:

  • Poor financial controls & accounts incorrect. (Accountant, and later Boardman’s mentor Peter Keen, helped uncover bad management & incompetence in the accounts)
  • Conflicts of interest in board member’s companies & interests. For example, Impsport being repeatedly awarded the BCF clothing contracts, reportedly without much in the way of alternative bids. BCF artwork designed & printed by board member’s company, a shareholder in promotions company that got contracts for BCF major events.
  • Board members working outside their remit & running operational matters.
  • Government funding being pulled until the serious situation was remedied.

In ‘Kings Of The Road’ by Robert Dineen, there’s lots more detail of what happened when Tony Doyle was elected President by the membership. The old guard, trying to protect their interests in their newly appointed Directorships after an overhaul led by Ian Emmerson in 1995, tried to oust him. It went to court & Tony Doyle won, after it was claimed that HE had a conflict of interests having worked for ‘Sport For Television’. Things got worse after that, for the democratically elected president against the board clinging to undemocratic power & privileges, as Dineen describes:

“The board called an emergency general meeting & called another presidential vote but Tony won that, too. The board had promised to resign if this happened. Instead it took out a civil case against him, prompting a complex chain of claim & counter-claim, until Tony resigned in frustration at the situation. He had been in office for only 5 months, ‘I was a young man, I was still president but they were taking me to court. I thought, “How can I conduct any meaningful business?”. The federations legal expenses were covered but not mine. I had no option to resign & fight them on a civil basis.”

There’s plenty more reading to be had in this if you’re interested, but as it’s in the black zone before absolutely everything was on the internet, it’s better found in books like ‘Kings of The Road’ linked above & ‘Great British Cycling‘ by Ellis Bacon

The Gist Of It

Without Tony Doyles intervention, a figure widely known & respected by the membership, having been a SixDay star & world champion, things may have dragged on a lot longer. Team GB’s Olympic successes may never have transpired, which would have led to low funding, potentially no Olympic medals, Chris Hoy having to get a proper job & Bradley Wiggins staying in the pub. We probably owe quite a lot to Tony Doyle, who kicked the whole thing off. Will we be looking back at Jess Varnish in 20 years time as being the one that kick started another cycling revolution in the UK?


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