Scottish Olympic Cycling Team?

Embed from Getty Images Regardless of your political viewpoint, the current media focus in Scotland is on September’s referendum, the very big question of whether or not we’ll remain part of the UK, which has the potential for dramatic change in Scottish life & sport for that matter. Those who regularly read my blog will be familiar with the topic of change, so it’ll be no surprise that I’m dealing with this tricky subject, which is potentially too big to ignore or delve in to. With that in mind I found it worth looking at what changes may occur in Scottish sport if there is a ‘yes’ vote, with particular focus on cycling & the potential for a Scottish Olympic team.

I’m not particularly interested in this blog piece developing into an all-encompassing debate on independence out-with sport, that’s covered everywhere else. This is more of a short study on what may happen if there is a ‘yes’ vote, not on whether or not there will be a ‘yes’ vote. Looking at how it would affect grass-roots sport, development, coaching & our elite athletes currently riding for the GB Olympic programme. I’ve been unable to find much information anywhere else on this subject, so I’m assuming those reading this have not either, hopefully I can fill in some of the gaps of what may happen to our sport if Scotland becomes independent at this referendum, or at any time in the future.

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to provide links wherever possible so you can check anything I proclaim to be a fact (as this is an especially touchy & polarizing subject for many people). So feel free to click away if you’re interested in reading the actual documents that concern the subjects. What I’ve tried to avoid are any statements of fact from politicians of any persuasion, I have what I consider a healthy distrust of political posturing & often check facts in news reports, especially on the independence subject. So check the facts, read the stories, not the headlines & don’t take anything at face value on what you hear or read about the referendum. Where I’ve expressed an opinion, its pretty obvious that’s what it is, I’m well aware that I’ll get variable feedback on this blog piece, but if you spot an inaccuracy let me know & present some evidence I can link to, not just an opinion.
 

Is Rio 2016 Realistic?

I’ll go into the technicalities first, you can view the Olympic Charter online, it’s a lengthy document which shows all the requirements necessary for a sport within a nation to compete. Each sport federation has to be affiliated to the international governing body recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In cycling’s case, this is the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). The charter also demonstrates that an NOC (National Olympic Committee) needs to exist for each nation competing in the Olympics (Ch4 pt29). The IOC define a nation as “In the Olympic Charter, the expression ‘country’ means an independent State recognised by the international community” (Ch4 pt30).

As far as defining a nation goes, there are a few different standards which the IOC recognise. Palestine has United Nations Observer State status & has its own NOC, which allows it to enter the Olympics. There are two Olympic nations which have no UN representation, these are Taiwan & Cook Islands (Taiwan surprised me, but it has no UN membership). Meanwhile nine territories of other nations are recognised Olympic nations, the USA have four, the Netherlands & China have one each (Aruba & Hong Kong), while three of the fourteen British Oversees Territories are represented, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands & Cayman Islands. South Sudan, while being the world’s current newest independent state (formed in 2011 after a civil war in Sudan), currently hasn’t allocated an NOC yet, so in the eyes of the IOC it isn’t a nation.  South Sudan’s marathon runner Guor Marial did compete at London 2012, but under the Olympic flag, a nation less athlete but still allowed to compete.

As you can see, the existence of a National Olympic Committee is the most important thing as far as the IOC is concerned. It’s not as hard as you’d imagine to be an Olympic nation if you follow the protocol set out in the Olympic Charter. So far that means that for cycling in Scotland, we’d need Scotland to be an IOC recognised state (i.e. simply have a Scottish NOC formed & meet one of the criteria above), the existing governing body of Scottish Cycling would be required to affiliate to the UCI, so that Scotland had an internationally recognised governing body for the sport of cycling. Rio in 2016 doesn’t look anything like as tricky as it did when I started my research for this blog & reading newspaper articles stating impending doom, it looks like a relatively straightforward process, even if Scotland isn’t full signed up to UN rules by 2016, it can still have an Olympic team at Rio 2016 if an NOC is in place. You can be sure that no politician looking to establish themselves in a new nation is going to let that administration issue slip by them, they’ll all be clambering to say it was them!

What Happens to Elite Athletes

I asked the Scottish Government & the UK Government for information on this subject & how the sport would be funded post-independence. I’ve not had a UK Government response, but was supplied with some information from the office of Scottish Minister for Commonwealth Games & Sport, Shona Robison. I’ll give you a brief summary of what came from this correspondence:

  • It’s intended to have both Olympic & Paralympic teams at the next Olympics.
  • Scotland meets all of the requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees and would apply to become a member as soon as possible.
  • The IOC is a body that has a history of quickly welcoming newly recognised independent countries. We believe it should be a relatively straightforward process which would mean an Olympic Team Scotland in place for Rio 2016. (Which I think I’ve discovered myself too, as you’ve already read)
  • Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level.
  • Since 1998, the sportscotland Institute of Sport has helped prepare many athletes to perform at the highest level. In the event of independence, elite athletes would receive support through sportscotland which would be funded through continued investment from the Scottish Government and our fair share of National Lottery contributions. As part of our resolutions with UK Government we will seek Scotland’s share of UK Sport funding. This, coupled with fantastic facilities including the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome and a new National Performance Centre for Sport being built at Heriot Watt University, will ensure Scotland is extremely well placed to develop our future athletes.

I’d hope that Scots like Katie Archibald, Callum Skinner, Kenta Gallagher & Grant Ferguson (who are all on the GB Olympic programmes) would experience a smooth transition to a Scottish Olympic programme to allow them to progress correctly. Perhaps we could expand that programme & allow a larger selection of talented riders to progress towards Worlds, Commonwealth & Olympic medals. This is likely, based purely on what we see with the Scottish ladies, competing in the European Classics this year, getting huge amounts of experience racing in big fields, on cobbles, with the best riders in the world. Some have also been competing at UCI registered track events over the past year, gaining the valuable qualification standards to compete as part of a Scottish team at the Commonwealth Games.

In men’s racing, a Scottish team could gain entry to events which currently are open to national teams, these come under UCI category 1.1 (one-day race) or 2.1 (stage race). Also if there are any UCI 1.HC (one-day race) or 2.HC (stage race) in Scotland, then national teams from the country of the organiser can ride. This rule currently applies to the Tour of Britain, but as we’d no longer be part of the UK, a Scottish team couldn’t take part. Some examples of 1.1 or 2.1 events that a Scottish mens team could ride are Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Trofeo Mallorca, Herald Sun Tour, Tour of Qatar, Vuelta a Murcia & Tour de l’Avenir. With some significant investment, we could be providing some incredible opportunities for our developing riders, although Scotland would need some riders who attract the attention (or some political interest, as always) of the organisers to attract an invite.

Working Group On Scottish Sport

I wasn’t aware of this until Shona Robison alerted me to it. The future of sport does look to have been considered by the politicians in Scotland in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, across parties. In September 2013, an independent group named the ‘Working Group on Scottish Sport‘ was set up & chaired by Henry McLeish, a former Labour MP & the person who took over as Scottish First Minister after Donald Dewar’s sudden death. I searched the White Paper for some detail on what would happen to sport in Scotland, there was very little, with the WGSS filling in the detail. This study intends to give us a better picture of what may happen post-independence. The conclusions will be published in a final report. The topics covered will include the following:

  • The action necessary to ensure Scotland can be successful in future Olympics and Paralympics in its own right;
  • The continuing development required to ensure that Scotland remains a country of sporting excellence, with opportunity at all levels;
  • The potential for sharing facilities and resources across the Home Nations and abroad.

It seems comments from people like Chris Hoy (see quotes later in article) may have been taken on-board & acted upon, hopefully we’ll get a better picture in the next few weeks when the conclusions are released in Spring 2014. This will hopefully include what exactly will happen with grass-roots sport development & employment of elite coaches across different sports.

Similarities

Embed from Getty Images Comparing other European nations who have a cycling culture we’d consider replicating, we find Denmark has a population of about 5.5 million, very close to Scotland’s. They have one indoor 250m velodrome & two outdoor ones, again, the same as Scotland. Denmark has an enviable & very successful track team at world championship & Olympic level (Danish team pursuiters pictured above) & plenty of riders in the pro ranks.

As an economical comparison of Scotland V Denmark, it’s worth noting that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies report (p9), Scotland’s projected GDP would be approx 17% higher per capita than the Danish $37,000 figure (which is almost identical to current UK GDP) & they are not in the Euro zone, but as I discovered are running their own currency (Krone) pegged to the Euro. A pegged currency to Sterling is one of the fiscal commission’s published options, I personally presume that this is probably the much discussed ‘plan B’  which is already in successful operation in a similar nation to us & a member country of the EU, perhaps some politicians can’t use google as well as an amateur blogger, it’s already been published.

So as a comparison based on the above, it’s likely (in my opinion) Scotland would have a sports development budget at least as good as the Danes, if not a little better. They have produced a nice Team Danmark pdf showing their focus across all sports & how athletes selected by their federation are included in various projects, plus an overview of the structure, this seems like a good proven & successful model to look at for Scotland. It’s worth a read.

The Eleven Danish World Tour riders:

Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Sebastian Lander (BMC), Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin Sharp), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Michael Andersen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo), Christopher Juul Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Anker Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nicki Sorensen (Tinkoff-Saxo)

The Two Scottish World Tour riders:

David Millar (Garmin Sharp), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma Quick-Step)

To put that in perspective, the UK has 12 riders in teams at that level with a population of around 65 million compared to Denmark’s 5.5 million. It would seem feasible that with a very good long-term plan & resources, an independent country like Scotland could have just as many top riders as the UK has now. It requires a culture change, coaching, facilities, talent spotting & organisation, it can’t be done overnight. But with a serious plan…

Cycling in Scotland, what changes?

Those of us involved in the sport are often found discussing the ins & outs of British Cycling race categories, licence points, rankings & the amount of races for 4th category riders. This may soon become a thing of the past if there’s a ‘yes’ vote. If so, it’s prudent that we consider what the sport would look like in a new Scotland. An independent state would mean a truly independent cycling governing body, currently ‘Scottish Cycling’ is considered by ‘British Cycling’ as a region, while ‘Scottish Cycling’ is a separate company who use the ‘British Cycling’ system of licences, insurance, coaching & structure. This whole structure would need to be re-thought.

Parts of the current structure don’t serve our smaller & more spread out population particularly well, so something that suits Scotland would have to be pursued, now is as good a time as any to look at that. While traditionally ‘Scottish Cycling’ (formerly SCU) has been mostly embroiled in road racing, that may not be where a redesigned future of Scottish cycle sport may lie. Rather than working within the constraints of ‘British Cycling’ rules, regulations & future planning, a whole new structure could be designed. The ‘British Cycling’ performance plan is based on Olympic medals, perhaps mimicking this for a nation less than a 10th of the population isn’t realistic. We could look to our natural strengths, with a sparsely populated landscape & plenty of opportunities off-road, a look at that side of the sport could pay benefits. Non Olympic sports such as downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross have never had the full focus of a nation, Scotland is surely well placed to adopt that kind of focus? Providing opportunities in areas of cycling that are popular without governing body control, where people are riding bikes because it’s fun, not for any performance reasons. This is likely where the growth in cycling will come from, with cross-over into other disciplines highly likely, off-road development could feed talent into all areas.

Regarding road racing, if the category system was removed (this has riders grouped into ‘British Cycling’ defined categories 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st & Elite, based on points gained in categorised races), then we may have the opportunity to completely remodel the system. Most races could be handicapped, with only regional, national championships & series events (where you would gain your higher rankings for competition overseas), then everybody could be involved in racing, regardless of ability. The weaker riders would learn by working together ahead of the fast groups & there would be no problems with race categories. It may even give us a chance to finally reduce the number of standard distance time trials, allowing riders of all abilities to compete in bunch racing. You’d get the occasional ringer, participation would be high & handicapping may not always work as well as expected, but dare I say it, we could make the bulk of road racing a ‘fun’ thing to do!

In Scotland we have ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘Cycling Scotland’, which have some crossover areas. Independence would be an ideal opportunity to combine these organisations with back-to-front names to each other. That way we could have a single organisation which deals with participation, racing, cyclists rights, cycling facilities (leisure, commuting, racing), all bundled together. With a departure from ‘British Cycling’ insurance & systems, this can make a big difference to how the sport of cycling is run, along with making funding a much simpler task. Cycling tourism is another area where growth could be extensive in cycling, we have fantastic scenery, trails & roads, all within relatively easy reach of airports & civilisation. Scotland already has the infrastructure to service additional tourists, wouldn’t it be nice if organisations all worked together to promote cycling, rather than try to put in place plans to syphon off as large a chunk of the cycling budget as possible, it could all go to one organisation with the best interests of cycling in general at its heart.

Athletes Opinions

Politicians & media love to get sports stars involved in political debates, they think it gives validity to whatever viewpoint they have chosen, selectively quoting the athletes or in some cases just making it up. Chris Hoy was a particular example of a very high-profile athlete who they tried to draw-in, regardless of his comments & his desire to say nothing particularly newsworthy on the independence debate. He was mis-quoted & apparently abused online as a result. Most media didn’t report the actual words, so here they are, not exactly the Scot-hating sportsman he was portrayed as in the more sensational press, those who’ve chatted to him will know this already.

What Chris Hoy really said. “You look at the results of the Scottish athletes over the years and we have had some fantastic athletes and some fantastic results. But it would not be quite as simple as just saying, ‘there is a Scottish athlete, they have won a gold medal, therefore that’s a medal for Scotland’. Most of the athletes have had to move to facilities which are often out with Scotland. I had to move down to Manchester because there was not an indoor facility in Scotland. I went to Manchester, trained with the British team and benefited from that. The first thing you have to do if you’re really serious about it is you have to provide the facilities and the coaching infrastructure. In Scotland we have the Institute of Sport and SportScotland there to try to give support to the athletes. There is support but it is not quite as simple as saying ‘we had X number of medalists from these Games, therefore that will translate into the same medals next time’. It will take time. It will weaken the British team obviously if Scotland went separately, and it would be harder for the Scottish athletes, initially, to establish themselves in a new training environment, with new coaches, with a different environment altogether. It’s not to say its impossible but it would just be a different challenge.

As with the recent clambering for quotes from the curlers at the Sochi Games, the media crave some controversy, they need to sell online adverts & papers & require controversial headlines, regardless of the content of the story. The fact is that elite sports people probably care much more about their sport than they do politics, their goal is to perform at the highest level they can.

Do we really expect athletes who are essentially employed by the GB team on the Olympic programme to say anything derogatory about their employers, who have the power to select or de-select them from their ultimate goal? The athletes & staff involved in Olympic sport have to work as a team, so don’t expect to hear anybody bad-mouthing their sporting family, a team which they have no influence whether they’ll be playing for in 2016. This is why you’ll hear more-often-than-not that they’re proud to compete for Scotland & for GB, these people are not daft, they know the importance of team unity for their own success, it’ll not be thrown away on a whim.

It’s a tricky subject for athletes to deal with, but saying that you strive to compete at the highest level you can is usually the best option, I don’t want to see our Commonwealth athletes chased for opinions, but we will see it at Glasgow 2014, lots. With that in mind, I’ll be taking any Glasgow 2014 published athlete quotes with a pinch of salt, until I see the actual interview or a transcript. Don’t write off any athletes you previously respected who are interviewed at the Commonwealth Games, who are reported to display extreme views in any political direction. They may not have said what’s implied, remember people are trying to sell papers & direct you to websites with adverts.

I will be keeping a close eye on any mis-quoting & I’ll publish the transcript or videos in full if I can find them, our riders are there to compete, not to get involved in anybody’s political strategy. I’m not selling you anything & I have no adverts, I have no benefit from page view numbers rising, I hope to tell it as-it-is. History tells us to expect things to get very dirty around that time, from activists & media representing both sides of the referendum debate.

The Gist Of It

Research for this blog piece has really opened my eyes to understanding the process of Olympic participation of a Scottish team, plus gathering facts on the whole independence issue has been very interesting, if somewhat time consuming. Most of the information politicians are shouting about is out there in the public domain, I was previously led to believe that wasn’t the case.

It’s hard to see how Scotland couldn’t manage to have a National Olympic Committee in place in a very short period of time & be recognised as one of the many options open to nations seeking representation at an Olympic Games. If the vote is ‘yes’, then I’m very sure Scotland will be represented at Rio 2016, I can’t see a reason why not based on the information regarding Olympic participation.

As far as I can see, the Olympics isn’t the only thing that Scotland could focus on, a complete restructuring of all Scottish sports bodies could be put in place. This would allow us to start from a blank canvas, the GB team sometimes seems to lack focus on World Championships, this is something a smaller nation really can’t afford to do, an independent Scottish team would have to take any opportunity for medals it could get. Downhill mountain biking & cyclo-cross could both have a big future for Scottish talent development. These could be a focus for a source of success, away from the highly funded track medal machines of GB & Australia.

We could combine mountain biking competition & participation with tourism & leisure facilities as part of a wider plan for getting people active & fighting obesity. We have many ski resorts & locations which have pre-existing chair lifts which can be adapted to carry bikes. With a downhill mountain bike course built at each of these we could expand these resorts seasons into the summer with some careful marketing, providing the local economies in these mountainous areas of Scotland with some extra income during the summer.

The political debate is raging around Scotland, people are talking politics everywhere you go & getting engaged in debate. Sport is often very closely linked to political strategies, you’ll see this go overboard at Glasgow 2014. The competitors & fans just want to see things improve & their nation doing well, the information revealed by the WGSS should provide the information I’m looking for regarding sports funding & opportunities. I’m sure this will be a constantly changing subject, I’ll try to keep on top of it & I do hope ‘Scottish Cycling’ are considering their options & opportunities in the event of independence, but if they are, I fully understand they can’t really tell ‘British Cycling’, or ‘some blogger’.

7 Responses

  1. Ishbel Taromsari

    Interesting reading. If Scotland can have a team in the Commonwealth Games just now isn’t it possible for the above to be set up to qualify for Olympic Team also? Wasn’t it just an arrangement between countries that we would be stronger going as one as British Cycling? I called parliament a couple of months back asking if Scotland was a country and I was told yes and that Britain was the nation. I’m neither pro or con regarding this as I don’t have any knowledge or expertise in these matters. But I’m confused as to why this is only a thought now when we are already a country?

      1. Ishbel

        Amazing. Thank you so much I was trying to find this info out a while back but got so many different answers! So if an athlete rides for Scotlsmd in the Commonwealth Games technically to the UCI they are not riding for an actual recognised country.

  2. With regards having a national team competing at a UCI event – have I heard rumours that the Glasgow road race course used for the British Champs 2013 and the Commonwealth Games might be used in future for a top-level race? This could be a similar scenario to the Yorkshire Tour de France Grand Depart, whereby the legacy of holding that event continues in a UCI 3-day stage race. Check out a recent Humans Invent podcast for an interview on that one.

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