There’s a void developing between what we see as grass-roots sport & how the sport is ‘managed’. The majority of the funding required to run a sport’s governing body in this day & age does not come from the people taking part in the sport directly, but through taxes raised across the population & distributed by an additional bureaucratic tier of agencies like Sport Scotland.
Why is it so expensive
There was a time when a body such as the SCU (the Scottish Cyclists Union, as it was known) was run from a small portakabin, balanced presumably on some borrowed bricks, outside Meadowbank Velodrome. The AGM was based on a more parochial system, what happened outside Scotland didn’t really matter & how our riders performed on the international stage wasn’t particularly important. Significant Scottish performances were welcomed, but they were generally as a result of some single-minded & dedicated individuals & their small band of helpers, rather than anything that the SCU had implemented through funding riders. There were some Scottish team trips, but in those days the facilitators of those journeys were not paid employees, they were volunteers, borrowing some badly fitting crash damaged jerseys, the infamous SCU Volvo or the luxurious Renault 21 ‘Savanna’ on a trip ‘abroad’ (mostly Ireland or England) & often taking holidays from work to help the talent get to big events. So in essence, the hopes & dreams of riders were resting on the goodwill of the few, the unsung hero’s of the time. You could say that things were simpler then, but these journeys were greatly appreciated by the riders, they are very rare these days, other than for youth riders.
Roll on a few years & things have changed dramatically, the SCU has become a limited company called Scottish Cycling, it has 20 something full-time employees (26, I think, if anybody can confirm) & the majority of its funding comes from Sport Scotland. If you consider the paltry funds that come from race levies, where SC only keep a fraction of the approx £3.95 from each senior race entry, the bulk of which goes to British Cycling for insurance & admin, then there’s not much going into the pot to cover salaries. For a very inaccurate example, if there’s 30 race weekends a year, with 300 riders racing each weekend & £1 goes to SC (it’s much less than that), then that’s just £9k a year, funds for a sport’s governing body cannot be raised from affordable race entry fees, it won’t even fund one employee.
Why so many employees?
Cycle sport isn’t what it used to be, we were secretly (i.e. out of sight from non-cycling club members) excited by the occasional individual endeavours admired only by those ‘in the know’ & the top performances more or less ignored by the non-cycling media, in fact in Scotland we were even ignored by that offshoot of the mainstream British press. We’d try to tell our non-cycling friends about this, but they were still trying to comprehend how cycling was a sport at all, wasn’t it just for old beardy guys? It’s all very different now, cycling has moved into an enviable position relative to other sports. It’s the UK’s most successful Olympic sport & therefore is central to the plan, that plan being to keep the masses happy by showing that Britain is good at stuff, creating a happy feeling amongst the populus & turning sporting success into a handy sidetrack from the economy, scandals, jobs & your general feeling of wellbeing in tough economic times. Cycling is now part of the political solution.
This leads to a different type of structure to the ‘funding targeted’, progressive & successful sports in the UK, cycling being high up on this list. Progress is now all based on targets, boxes ticked, strategies, stakeholders, CPI’s, KPI’s, political correctness, inclusiveness, all planned by civil servants somewhere administering what they perceive as the politically correct interpretation of how a sport should be run. They need to do this to tick their own boxes, after all, this is taxpayers money & it needs to be spent in a clear, traceable & transparent manner. Unfortunately all this checking & document creation requires additional manpower (and much increased expense), so the extra funding can easily be spent on spreadsheet creators, powerpoint sliders & justification of the spend, cycling has now become part of ‘the cooncil’, due to its success!
So what do we have so far? We have funding for successful Olympic sports, directed through the government, fed through Sport Scotland & distributed amongst the sports federations who have completed a 4 year plan. Or organisations which have accidentally become a governing body for a successful sport in which they have strolled into via another bodies success & expertise in planning & organisation. This is exactly what has happened with Scottish Cycling, the success of British Cycling & their Olympic programme while the SCU was run out of a portakabin has thrown SC into something they are only just coming to terms with handling. This was not the fault of the SCU, but more a reaction to the introduction of lottery funding, which was directed at the UK’s governing body for cycling, originally the BCF (British Cycling Federation), but now BC (British Cycling), this changed it from a volunteer run organisation, into a governing body run by paid employees.
With SC, the time they have been trying to get to the point BC is currently at is much shorter, in both time & financial terms, the structure & leadership isn’t there yet, as described better than I can manage by their own official report on Scottish Cycling’s business, it’s not pretty & it’s HERE. It really is worth another read before you go to the SC AGM.
They are trying, but it’s a tricky road, troubled by attempting to keep everybody happy, but as we all know, you can’t keep all the the people happy, all of the time. This all results in a series of Sport Scotland identified roles which are required to ‘tick the boxes’ to meet their funding criteria in all the selected sports, in order to get this funding, the individual sports federations need to tick the boxes, whether or not they help their sport, the boxes need ticked.
There’s plenty of good work going on at SC, from what I can see from the outside, the RDO’s are doing some great work, especially with youth development. The problem with funding is that it’s ring-fenced, so it needs to be directed, documented & recorded as having been spent on a specific area, in order to tick a specific box. This is where the previous incarnation of the SCU can be looked at, it used to be a club focussed organisation, with a huge input from volunteers, those with the most input are now not volunteers, but often staff, who have limited knowledge of the sport they work in, possibly because the cycle of ring-fencing means that they don’t access the sport at the grass-roots level, getting them out there isn’t part of the funding.
The criteria for employment in the sport now doesn’t relate to your expertise in knowing anything about that specific sport, but again, it’s about ticking boxes, the correct qualifications, the correct experience in things non cycling, but little or no requirement to know anything about the intricacies of how cycling actually works, internationally or locally. This is not the fault of the individuals, they likely have the talent, drive & enthusiasm to perform well in the job at hand. It’s more the fault of the system, the one in which SC has to fit into, due to box ticking & ring-fencing from further up the chain. So we’re drawn into a very distant decision-making process, of which each organisation that processes the funds adds their own boxes to tick, ending with the remaining funds being spent on actual sport, but in a very controlled & inflexible way. I actually have quite a lot of sympathy for SC on this, a large amount of the decision-making isn’t under their control in any way. But this brings us to ‘the membership’…..
No matter how you look at it, the current plan to change the ‘Centre’ setup, and change it to five ‘Regions’, while reducing the club input in each of these regions to six individuals, voted by all the clubs in the region to represent them, is dissolving the input of the general cycling membership. It removes them from the equation, outnumbered by bureaucrats & box tickers, the focus is moving away from the club structure, by stealth. While this may be good for continued funding, without the interference of those pesky cyclists involved in cycling, it isn’t good for the backbone of the sport.
The majority of the army of volunteers, who give up their time for free, to provide coaching, races & events for cycling, are from cycling clubs. This is an often overlooked element, which can potentially lead to disaster if ignored. It seems that one aspect of SC’s performance is based on how many British Cycling members live in Scotland. We know a huge amount of these riders take out BC membership simply for the insurance benefits, we know a huge amount of the BC members are not in clubs & have no intention of furthering the sport by volunteering. So we can also deduce that having a large number of BC members on the books is a bit a false target, you’d be as well counting the increase in commuters on Princes Street over the years to get just as good an indication how many people are cycling these days. Simple number counting is not an indicator of how the sport will develop, but it is easy to count, so it’s used by those who don’t really ‘get it’.
Club membership is the key, that’s the target that needs addressed, then turning those club members into British Cycling members, encouraging them to sign up, as many clubs do. The difference between club members & individuals who join BC is huge, club members are much more likely to get involved in the running of the sport, they are much more likely to be volunteers, being in a club allows you access to the knowledge & structure of cycling, of events, of racing, group riding, skills. A rider on their own has little access to this world, they take the insurance & perhaps don’t even know there is a club in their town or village. Part of this is about clubs learning to be better at publicising themselves, but part of it is also down to governing bodies encouraging club membership & not just dwelling on increased BC membership stats, many of which don’t even know clubs exist & will never become an actual part of the sport.
Is there a solution?
Necessity demands that the successful sports become politicised, in order to gather the required funding, SC pales into insignificance on this front compared to the ever-increasing pace of the derny that is British Cycling. With its long time president now in charge of the UCI, it picks up talent & drops others, while still getting faster & moving higher up the banking. So like it or not, our sport is largely guided by the political bandwagon, focussed on producing happiness by creating national pride with sporting success. We are on a derny too, but have the ability to get some benefit from the slipsteam from the BC one, but not having the same momentum or support, we are required to ride more efficiently, staying closer to the black line, SC needs to run lean to get on level terms, it needs to get smarter.
As far as BC is concerned, SC is one of their regions, but run outside much of their control, we’d assume it’s seen as the wayward son or daughter which doesn’t behave quite as they’d like. BC is often criticised for ignoring domestic racing & clubs, but you can’t deny that their formula works very well for successfully targeting sports funding, but could an organisation such as Scottish Cycling continue to tap into the British Cycling resource while exploring a different route, developing clubs. Plenty of clubs & volunteers have been getting the impression that they’re an annoyance to SC, with a little effort, this perception could be turned around.
As I’ve said before, clubs are the catalyst for producing willing volunteers, members outside the club system rarely contribute, but a focus on numbers or BC member riders, rather than active BC members is a false statistic. In an example scenario, we could have 100,000 riders, all going out by themselves & using BC membership for insurance purposes, then 1000 riders who are members of clubs & are also BC members. Ask yourself from which group the majority of the people who give up their time to help run the sport would come from. Clubs need help, clubs need developed & clubs are the key to a progressive sport, supporting them will unlock many opportunities for SC to show that they are directing resources to the areas that their funders are asking.
The Jist Of It
Governing bodies need to return to gathering input from the people they serve, while balancing the needs of their funding stream. It’s tricky, but there is a danger that these bodies can start to become so disjointed from their original aims that they no longer serve the sport, other than the very top-tier. It’s a dangerous tactic to take, it can result in a complete collapse of the volunteer network & the good will of those volunteers. We’re all well aware that our levies & affiliations don’t pay the wages, but we have valid input & ideas, which should be listened to, dissolving those ideas in a new regional structure is only adding to the complexity of volunteers getting involved in meetings with trained speakers with no knowledge of sport. Volunteers help the sport, they don’t necessarily put their points across well in a room full of suits. As at least one of the SC Presidential candidates stated, there is a need for the membership to have a forum to speak their thoughts, I’ll be gathering each potential presidents thoughts before the AGM & see who will support the needs of the membership the best, which invariably will result in suiting the sport the best.
My ideas for a road race league, will promote club membership.
A guide to joining a cycling club.
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