El Presidente

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This Saturday sees a very strange event, not just the normal abnormality of a Scottish Cycling AGM, but it also includes a contest, we actually have more than one candidate for SC President!

For many years, the tradition for each bearer of the President’s role is to attempt to get rid of it, to suggest they stand down, only to get mocked & persuaded to continue for “just one more year”. Jock Shaw was the master of this, even suggesting at one AGM that he would stand down if the calendar wasn’t published on time, yes, the SC calendar which has never been published on time (he didn’t stand down, when the expected turn of events repeated itself).

The SC President’s role is a tough one, more so in the current climate, where you’re expected to fill a voluntary role alongside the salaried SC executive(s). You have to love the sport to take on a role like that, plus you may realise that you’ve set yourself up, put yourself in the firing line of the (normally) irate membership to take a pop at. The SC executive(s) don’t bat an eyelid at criticism, see the Governance Review for evidence of that, many of the potential fixes to the issues highlighted in that have maybe been talked about, but not necessarily actioned. The President will take some of the heat for that from the membership, even though it wasn’t their doing, but this is how our sport works, minor squabbling with those who’ll listen & ignoring those who don’t appear to care. It should be the other way about?

The major issue with the President’s role is that it may not actually carry much weight in real terms, no matter how hard el Presidente tries to make a difference. As I’ve pointed out in Sport V Funding, the sport is no longer volunteer or membership led, its guidance comes from funding, not experience & knowledge of cycling. I’ve drifted in & out of caring about who is SC president the last two weeks, but having swathered, considered sending them all questions or open twitter questioning, I’ve come to the conclusion that whoever wins the vote on Saturday has a huge opportunity.

The opportunity is to find a way to allow the knowledgable people back into influential positions, where the executive(s) will listen to them & not discount them. The trick is to reach a point where everybody benefits, where the funding is secure, a new direction can be found which leads to a development plan which ticks the funding boxes & appeases the masses of disgruntled cyclists, club members & volunteers, who feel more like a number than a person. This is a huge opportunity for change, for the better, for everybody.

The Candidates

So lets look at who we’ve got, fortunately the Edinburgh Road Club have posted some of the propaganda material on their website, so I’ll link to that.

Kathy Gilchrist – PDF Link HERE

Alasdair MacLennan – PFD Link HERE

Richard Davison – Blog Link HERE

We have some historic info on the candidates there, plus Davison has a couple of pages of blogs, which are quite interesting, especially the one referencing what may have been going on within the board to stop certain board-members standing, worth a read before you vote. Obviously, I like a blog approach (especially as this blog gets a mention), but the more traditional flyer type info still has its place, it’s all valid campaigning. I didn’t link the absolutely blatant propaganda flyer sent to clubs from one candidate, a “look who my pals are” which could have been straight from Pat McQuaid, a bad move in the current climate, regardless of intention.

The Jist Of It

From this blogs point of view, what we’re looking for is somebody who will stand up for sport & force change. The change we’re after isn’t one-sided, compromises have to be made, but it’s gone too far in the way of funding, while forgetting about the sport. For Scottish Cycling to become the strong organisation we all want, the sport has to start taking centre stage again, but in a manner in which we can demonstrate growth & development can occur in line with funding targets. This will re-engage the people with passion for the sport, freeing up their hard-earned spare time, to be given back to the sport the volunteers love to support. Lets elect a candidate who’s willing to take a stand, you’ve got a great choice there, I’m still undecided, choice forces stronger opinions & it looks like they’ve all upped their game. Choose wisely & hopefully we’ll have a better, happier & more sport orientated governing body in the very near future.

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Sport V Funding

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!

Ticking Boxes

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.

Ringfencing

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’…..

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.

LINKS……..

My ideas for a road race league, will promote club membership.

A guide to joining a cycling club.

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Scottish Cycling: Review & Renew (Part1)

Following the recent ‘Strategic & Governance Review’ of Scottish Cycling by ‘Renaissance & Company’, a strategic management consultancy, we finally have some idea what exactly is going on inside SC, along with some much-needed answers. In this blog & the following parts of ‘Scottish Cycling: Review & Renew’, I’ll be tackling the tricky questions that arise & look at some ideas of how things can be moved forward. In some of my previous posts, you’ll have seen that sometimes I’m echoing the widespread frustration in the sport with regards to SC (historically SCU), this review now shows some light at the end of the tunnel. If Scottish Cycling do not take on board what has been said, act on it in an open manner & listen to the membership, they will cease to exist in the not too distant future. Our sport needs a strong governing body in what could be potentially a massive growth period, across all cycling, not just the traditional road & track scene, we need solutions looking into the future. I’d like to commend Scottish Cycling on implementing the review & making it available for public consumption (although it’s not exactly easy to find on the website, an initial worry about transparency is brought about by this, although I can see why they wouldn’t want every visitor to read it).

Before continuing, I’d advise you read or skim through the review, keep it open on another browser tab & refer to it if needed.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL REPORT

Who Wrote The Review?

I don’t know exactly where the pressure to commission this came from, perhaps Sport Scotland who fund the majority of SC’s activities, but the management consultancy chosen, Renaissance & Company, are an ideal choice having dealt with many sports governing bodies in the past. They specialise in helping sports bodies, HERE & HERE are some links to sporting bodies they have worked with previously. We can have faith that what has been said by them is credible, they’ve seen plenty other sporting governing bodies & they know how they work, or should work.

What the Review Said?

It’s probably beneficial to read it yourself, but the findings are quite scathing, possibly to those who’ve dealt with SC regularly, there are no surprises whatsoever. I’ll not dwell too much on these, looking more towards the future, we all know there have been mistakes & issues, some will feel vindicated, so a short paragraph resume of some of these is valid, here we go..

The report recognises that cycling is complex, supporting various disciplines. SC displays plenty of logo’s of other organisations they have a relationship with, but it says these relationships do not actually exist (British Cycling, Cycling Scotland etc). Middle aged men interested in road racing dominate the membership, the membership don’t know what SC does. It’s an unhappy place to work, they lack effective leadership & there is no master plan!

Please read the report linked further up the page if you want the full story, it’s quite grim regarding what they found.

Solutions

The report flags up a number of solutions, they start on page 9, under section 3, if you’re following the review, skip to that part now.

The first area they look at is ‘Reforming the Business of Scottish Cycling‘, with the following key areas:

  • Strong Participation
  • Excellent Competitions & Events
  • Scotland Winning
  • Excellent Communities of Cycle Sport
  • Effective Leadership, Service & Governance
  • Working in Real Partnership

For increasing participation, we’re seeing that a plan is recommended (we’ll be seeing a lot of this, there currently are no plans), along with an executive in charge of this area. It seems that currently there is no strategy aimed at this, the membership demographics need a serious overhaul, if it continues as a middle-aged man’s domain, then the progress we require in order to develop cycling will not transpire. It will stay as the same old, same old, with an ever ageing emphasis on veteran racing & APR’s, this isn’t the future & whether you like it or not (I assume if you’re reading this, the chances are that you are a middle-aged man, based on the review findings) things are going to change, dramatically.

So how do we change the demographic? There isn’t going to be any kind of exodus of middle-aged men, the Mamils will stay, only we’ll add everybody else into the mix. The report states that SC has only 7000 official members, of the estimated 200,000 regular cyclist in Scotland, the reason that they are not members is likely that they believe SC does nothing for them, or they have no idea that SC exists. Basically SC do not currently provide the service they should in the modern world, they are outdated & stuck in the past, it needs to change, some won’t like it, but cycling is changing & if we (you, your club, your governing body) don’t change, you won’t have a governing body left to cling onto. What everybody outside of the progressive areas of our sport in Scotland (youth development & coaching etc) is that change is inevitable, cycling has got much bigger, we need a strong governing body to look after it and guide it, this review sets out a plan to achieve that.

I’m slightly uneasy with the review comments about events, the calendar stuff is great, but it appears to suggest that it’s OK for SC to organise events. This has gone very badly for the UCI, putting them in direct competition with established race organisers & seemingly using UCI anti-doping funding from pro teams rumoured to fund events in China, these events run by a company funded by the UCI but run by their controversial figurehead, Pat McQuaid & family. Governing bodies shouldn’t be running events other than their championships, it creates competition between the governing body & others, in Scotland’s case, between SC & clubs. There have been moves by groups of clubs to run a track league at Glasgow, but this was stopped for some reason. It’s hard to work out how clubs could raise the funds to block book expensive track time, while its common knowledge that SC are still negotiating their hourly track rate & haven’t actually paid for any yet. We’re not going to get any progressive race organisers getting a look in with that kind of set up.

The calendar does need to be completely demolished & rebuilt, as the report says, it’s got far too clogged up with ‘traditional dates’, if we want a modern sport this needs categorised, with championship events given priority & the other events slotted in around them. I can see some conflict with clubs & organisers over this, but if the clubs have valid reasons for when their event should be on they need to put that across, “it’s always been on that date” isn’t a valid reason, everybody has to accept change.

There’s plenty of solutions involving ‘regions‘, this would involve a complete rethink regarding the ‘centres‘. For some information on how out of balance these are, I wrote a blog on a potential regional road race league system a while ago, ‘Out of Our League‘. The old ‘centres’ simply don’t work as they should, finding ‘less-mature’ club representatives to go along to these would help, but many of the people who actually have any spare time to travel to these meetings still think 6 speed down tube friction levers are state-of-the-art. The regions need to be split evenly into areas with a similar amount of clubs, with a similar projected growth & the meetings need to be modernised. We are in the bizarre situation that some regions cover such a vast area that it’s impossible to get everybody to turn up. Why would somebody from Shetland travel to Aberdeenshire for a ‘centre meeting’, or somebody from Oban visit Glasgow, it’s just not practical. There’s really very little need to actually meet in person, if big business can carry out meetings by Skype, it’s absurd that you can’t decide who’s running your regional ’10’ champs by the same manner, it’s not exactly tricky, you can all sit at home and have a meeting, even on the train, time to move things forward, if you’re shy just do voice meeting rather than video. That’s the only way you can have effective meetings over the geographic distance of the 4 to 6 regions the review advises. The harsh reality of this, is that if you don’t have a computer, you’re not going to be a productive part of a sport trying to modernise & rebuild, you’re also not reading this, so I’ve not offended anybody!

What’s in Part 2?

So that’s the Part 1 basic overview on where we’re going with this over the first part of the review, we need a new SC, a modern sporting governing body with progressive clubs & a strong regional structure, a completely rebuilt calendar.That’s probably enough for Part 1, in Part 2 we’ll start getting into the nitty gritty, looking in depth at where the growth is coming from & there are also some problems with lobbing all the disciplines together where you ‘get a bit muddy’, those are where the real participation growth is coming from, so they need a little more individual attention than that. SC have to be very careful that they don’t change winning formats that are actually attracting their new target demographics.

I can see this drifting into 4 or 5 blogs, we’ve still got to look at how to grow each discipline, bmx, road, sportives, track, cross country mtb, downhill mtb & cross! We’ve only just scraped the surface, I’ll let you read the review yourself before I release Part 2.