With just one International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned event outside of regional and national championships, four member countries, and three continental teams as of 2013, the question begging to be asked of the Oceania region is what if any relevance does it have to the future of global cycling?
We need to look at it and express to the UCI that this is going to benefit cycling in this area of the world, Asia, Oceania, rather than any one region.
The simple answer would be very little. The region's existence in its current format is stifling the growth of more events, investment in current teams and is actively doing harm to itself.
Take the demise of the calendar for instance. Since 2005/2006, the region has shed the Sun Tour, the Melbourne to Warrnambool, Tour of Southland, the Trust House Cycle Classic and the Tour Down Under. The latter the only to exit the calendar for greener pastures with WorldTour status.
The 2013 calendar which has only been provisionally released at present includes just one UCI-sanctioned event in the New Zealand Cycle Classic (2.2) making the use of the term 'calendar' slightly farcical.
But the driving force behind the calendar's decay is in large part the confederation itself. The existence of Oceania has a two-fold effect on promoters and teams both in and outside of the confederation that has actively negated growth in its member countries.
For existing Oceania promoters looking to start new internationally-sanctioned events within the region there are major disincentives for upgrading or internationalising. Consider the following figure from the UCI Rules governing stage and one-day races:
If the New Zealand Cycle Classic for example which exists currently as a 2.2 event (lowest categorisation) upgraded to 2.1 status enabling it to invite WorldTour teams, it would do so at the expense of 'regional and club teams'.
Such a move would preclude 15 of the teams from the 2012 edition from competing, and a substantial number of New Zealanders. At best if the race had've been 2.1 this year, it could have had two full teams of Kiwi riders, with Subway Pro Cycling and a New Zealand National squad.
Unsurprisingly it's remained as a 2.2 classified race, choosing not to alienate its participants and sponsors.
That's also discouraged existing national events within Australia and New Zealand from upgrading from 'national' to 2.2 level. With an absence of UCI Continental teams and a significant regulatory cost associated with an international upgrade, many events don't see the point.
Similarly teams see little advantage in upgrading their status to UCI Continental and above if they're simply looking to compete in Australia and New Zealand. Of the three major continental teams in Oceania; Genesys, Drapac and Budget Forklifts, all three are internationally licensed primarily to enable them to compete in selected Asian, and in Drapac's case European events.
There would be greater incentive for teams to be UCI registered if there was a richer Oceania calendar. Five or six 2.1 events in Australia and New Zealand would encourage borderline teams like Mico-ProTrain (NZ), search2retain (AUS) and GPM-Wilson Racing (AUS) to upgrade, and prevent themselves from being excluded.
As is that threat does not exist. For other confederations, with healthier calendars, plentiful numbers of teams and athletes no such disincentive exists.
More broadly and outside the region there are other problems. Asia which should be embraced and integrated by Oceania is still treated in regulatory terms as if it were in another universe. Oceania teams must vie against eachother for limited foreign placements in Asian calendar races. Some a stone's throw from Oceania borders.
Points add an extra layer of needless frustration. While riders benefit from their results in Asia and Oceania equally, teams suffer from the split system. Points play a vital role in teams earning invitations to races with the top three UCI Continental teams in the UCI fictitious ranking each year earning automatic invites to 2.2 and 2.1 races the following season.
For Oceanian teams like Genesys and Drapac which both have distinguished themselves in the Asian Tour this year, their results will count for naught when it comes to applying for Asian invites next year, because of their status as Oceania teams.
The silver bullet solution being cried out for by both teams and riders is for an integration with Asia, as Cam Whiting from leading Asian Cycling website CyclingIQ explains. But at least part of the problem has been how to unwind Oceania and merge the Asian calendar in their current forms.
"I think the UCI knows the creation of a Oceania Tour has been a strategic error, and its removal has just been pushed down the list of priorities until now. Australia and New Zealand have nothing to fear from being included in the Asian Cycling Confederation.
"They outperform every other Asian nation at the highest levels of professional road cycling and UCI teams from Oceania already include large tracts of the AsiaTour calendar in their schedules. It's analogous to birds flying south for winter; teams go to the most suitable environment for their continued wellbeing. The Oceania Tour is a desolate place for teams with few conceivable growth opportunities."
Whiting believes there is only advantage to be gained from Oceania joining Asia, and it's almost inevitable that the two will eventually merge, the only remaining question is of when.
"Australia has, in broad terms, already established itself as an integral part of the Asian economy," he says.
"It is an inescapable fact that Australia is increasingly economically and culturally tied to Asia; this should be embraced in as many areas as possible.
"Cycling events need money. Money comes from sponsorship. Sponsorship generally implies an overarching commercial objective that is built upon leverage and activation opportunities. It is my belief that multi-national brands would be more inclined to opt in as sponsors if they knew their message could potentially be delivered to four billion people (the population of Asia), instead of forty million (the population of Oceania)."
The potential for Australia and New Zealand as major event hubs is massive within a reformed Asian Tour and there is a growing tide hoping for change.
For Oceania promoters, integration opens the way for Asian dollars, more diverse team participation, higher sporting competition, and fitting their own events into a broader calendar boasting thirty plus races. For the teams it simplifies the complexities of trying to participate in Asia and encourages sporting and commercial ambition.
Would the Sun Tour be struggling for recognition in Asia? Would the Tour of Tasmania be anything other than 2.1? Would teams be struggling for investment and sponsorship in a bigger confederation? Asian integration would go a long way to helping all of the above.
Though the wheels are in motion, work is still to be done, and there are issues still to be overcome. Cycling Central contacted Mike Turtur, Oceania President, to discuss his plans for the confederation and the key impediments to change. His responses are below in full.
Cycling Central: As Oceania president are you concerned about the observable decay of the Oceania calendar? Tour Down Under and regional championships aside, you’re now are down to one event in the New Zealand Cycle Classic.
Mike Turtur: I’m absolutely concerned about that. Our calendar was really pitiful to be honest to start with and with the removal of the Sun Tour, that made it even worse. We once had the Tour of Tasmania and the Warrnambool and all these other races that were part of the international calendar. We need to work with the organisers to try and get them back on the calendar because we need to strengthen the Oceania region not only on the road but the track. The problem we have the logistical reality is that we have four registered countries in the region and when you’re only dealing with four countries, Australia, New Zealand, Guam and Fiji, it makes it difficult to have substantial calendars and activity in the region. We’re trying to address the issue of new membership via a development program that we implemented two years ago, we’re trying to get an associate membership approval from the UCI to have some countries that aren’t at the required level to be part of Oceania to get the thing rolling. We’re working on these things but this is a long term thing. Unfortunately the issue that we face in Oceania are issues that we’ve faced for a long time. I mean, that hasn’t changed.
CC: Is there a future for the Oceania calendar? Do you think the value of the Oceania region is questionable?
MT: There is a future for the calendar from a couple of perspectives that we should never relinquish. That is from the qualifying criteria for World Championships and Olympic Games. It’s really crucial that we remain in charge of our own situation as far as they’re concerned. The other thing that I think would be feasible and open to discussion is a merging of the two calendars with Asia and Oceania. That could be a way of moving forward, it has been discussed briefly I know at a higher level but nothing concrete has been done. But it’s something that needs to be discussed and worked through over the next period because it makes sense to me not only from a calendar point of view but also from a regional championship point of view to have a combined Asia and Oceania track and road championship in my view would be a great event. Now, whether we can get our counterparts in Asia to agree to that is another thing, maybe we could have an arrangement whereby they are a combined championship but the independent confederation still have their medals presented and the selection and the quota numbers are still retained for the different confederations even though you have a combined championship. I mean, there are ways around it but there needs to be a lot of discussion and we’ve already had some basic discussion about it but we need to now maybe move forward because of what’s happened with the calendar.
CC: Asia has a lot of positives associated with it, both from economic and sporting perspectives - in that sense are you still circumspect about moving forward because of the Olympic qualifying?
MT: Oh no, I’m in favour of the concept of a combined calendar, but we still have to sort of retain our independence as far as the region and the qualifying situation is concerned whether it’s world championships or the Olympic Games. With regional quotas and so on, there are a really difficult obstacles to overcome with the Olympic Games in particular. It’s something that the IOC looks upon as a sort of necessity. We don’t believe that’s the case but certainly you have to have a situation whereby there’s a compromise made on the quotas because we haven’t got a lot to play with at the Olympic Games and then they want major representation from the maximum number of countries and we just have to come up with a formula to make sure that we cater to everything. It’s a very tricky and complicated situation it’s something that I’ve been involved with for the last four years, but it’s something necessary to keep our place in the Olympic Games and to move forward.
CC: There are significant regulations and restrictions that prevent events in Oceania from growing. Is there a chance of such regulations being relaxed as a special case for the region, pending a potential merge with the Asian calendar?
MT: We’ve discussed that in Melbourne at the world road championships with the UCI. It’s something that at the moment they’re not prepared to compromise on because they believe that compromising on those sorts of requirements will not improve the race but sort of drop the level a bit. We don’t agree with that, so we’re still working on it. And the mixed team participation and the restrictions around those things that have seen a lot of events come off the calendar like the Southland Tour and so on and directly because of the issues surrounding participation of mixed teams. We continue to work on it, it’s a situation that needs further rework and it’s not over with yet. But hopefully we can get some sort of arrangement in place that will see races like Southland come back on the calendar and be part of the international situation.
CC: Because at the moment, there are, even if it’s a 2.2 a race you must have at least 5 foreign teams, which is a financial burden, particularly the small races can’t afford that. As soon as a race becomes a UCI race, it blocks out teams that aren’t continental rated unless they become mixed. It’s stifling growth in the region from teams and event perspective right?
MT: That’s what we’ve put to the UCI that it is restrictive and it’s not proactive in terms of what we’re trying to achieve in the region. They didn’t agree to it in Melbourne but we’ll certainly be following it up in the next period to see what we can do but, the process is difficult because they are not sort of prepared to make compromises for one region and not the other because they believe that if it’s made for one then it’s just a snowball effect for everyone. But in our argument, based on the mixed team scenario, we believe that would be beneficial for some other regions also, not just the region of Oceania. IT’s something that we need to continue to work on and we are.
CC: In terms of Asia, completely explicitly, you’re open to the idea of somehow having Oceania, Asia teams being part of the same region, but still being two different regions for Olympic qualification purposes. So a Drapac or a Genesys which are Oceania registered would have more possibility and competing for Asia/Oceania ranking points, crucial to their qualification for certain Asian and Oceanian events.
MT: Certainly. There are different formulas that could be implemented but the argument would be from an Asian point of view well why do we need to do this? We’re going OK it’s you guys that have the problem. So we need to look at it from a cycling point of view not from a regional point of view. We need to look at it and express to the UCI that this is going to benefit cycling in this area of the world, Asia, Oceania, rather than any one region. So I mean, I think it has been discussed at UCI Road Commission meetings previously I mean, I was minuted in the last year that that was a suggestion, I know the president, (Patrick) McQuaid has some interest in looking at it further so I mean, it’s a possibility to be looked at and see where we go with it.
CC: And from an Asian perspective, there’s a disincentive for Asian teams to compete in potential Oceania events because it’s the same (points) issue that exists for Oceania teams. There are a lot of advantages for both regions. How much can it change in the short term?
MT: It’s not going to be an easy task, I have to admit that straight upfront. But I think it’s something that has some worthy outcomes that could be beneficial to everyone, and there’s others that will be more beneficial more so to one region over another I mean these are just compromises that we have to work with, and we just have to work through with our counterparts in Asia and just see what they’re prepared to do and if they’re happy to discuss it further and then move forward from there.
CC: How much have you personally already had discussions with Asia, as Oceania president you have a mandate to develop and grow the region.
MT: I’ve discussed it informally. I haven’t taken it to any further level, I need to again get the overall feeling of the UCI Road Commission as far as their view on it is concerned and I know that there is a general consensus within the group that you know, that might be the way to go, and we need to move forward from there and take it to a formal level but it’s something we certainly need to consider. And also on the track, the track too. The track championships, like the road championships for the region could be a significant event. Something like 40 or 50 countries participating and very high quality. It would be a superb series.