• Anna Meares and Stephanie Morton compete in the Team Sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Cycling Australia (CA) has defined its high performance direction for the next few years. The press release was titled 'Inspiring a nation through Olympic and Paralympic medals', confirming a shift in high performance funding to going all-in with a push for Olympic medals.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

17 Oct 2017 - 8:38 AM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2017 - 8:50 AM

It takes no reading between the lines to find the key thrust of the changes to the CA high performance program, it's stated quite clearly. High Performance director Simon Jones has been the figurehead for this policy charge and spoke at the announcement about the change.

“I want the Australian public to be proud and in awe of our Australian Cycling Team," said Jones, "and I am passionate and proud to be supporting the next Australian cycling sporting heroes.

“The way we can do this is to perform on the Olympic and Paralympic stage; there is no bigger platform to inspire a nation.”

Tokyo focus slashes road programs in new Cycling Australia push
Coming off a Rio Olympics campaign blighted by bad luck and performances below anticipated levels, Cycling Australia's new high performance director Simon Jones, has laid out his plan for the next few years.

Looking further into the strategy, it's clear that these heroes and heroines will be largely based on the track and in road time trials. If you're a road rider that doesn't specialise against the clock, a mountain bike star or a BMX prodigy then you're going to need to do largely by yourself.

The reason for this comes down to money, there's little enough to go round after previous CA administrations racked up debt and limited funding means tough decisions need to be made. This focus hasn't come from nowhere, there's been a concerted push from government since the 1970s where the demands are for continued success at the Olympic level, leading the establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC).

By far the largest revenue stream for CA at the moment is the ASC and the demanded focus is Olympic medals... lots of them.

So much so that all CA support has been withdrawn from the women's road development team, the women's Orica-Scott team and the men's Under-23 setup with Michelton-Scott. Add to that the withdrawal of funds from the state Institutes of Sport road programs.

“The strategy was assessed by understanding where we can have the biggest influence and support on athletes’ preparation, including training and competition,” said Jones.

“With limited resources, to improve we have to refine and focus operations, improve efficiency, and strategically invest using evidence that is aligned to the proven principles of high performance."

Track cycling has more events than any other discipline of cycling. The numbers of athletes you have to support for each event offers a lot more shots at gold for your dollar than the road race, where you have to haul around a five to nine person team, mechanics, soigneurs, team directors... all to try and win in one the most competitive events of the Olympics.

This all makes sense if your goal is to win as many medals as possible. Also if you're trying to secure as much funding as possible in this Olympics-focused climate.

But should that really be the main goal of Cycling Australia?

It feels that we're getting further and further away from the Crawford Report - remember the wide-sweeping enquiry into Australian sport? It seems that many in sports administration have preferred to ignore the findings.

It stated, amongst other things, that national sporting success should not be solely assessed in terms of medal tallies. Elite performance in non-Olympic sport, participation in grass roots sport and the general health of the population should also be considered as key goals of sporting organisations.

Targets for these categories included high participation rates at all ages and capacities, strong national and club-based competitions, as well as support for coaches and volunteers who contribute their time. The report also included a key finding for national sport institutions such as Cycling Australia: they should place engagement of recreational participation as a key priority and this focus should also be backed through all levels of government.

In terms of these more holistic goals, which are aimed at promoting a more healthy sporting landscape - not one focused on the boom or bust four year cycle at the Olympics - CA cannot be said to be producing much of a positive effect.

Development pathways for road cycling, already stripped to the bone with joint-funding models alongside private owners are now entirely in the hands of those private owners. The women's national development team, the Michelton-Scott Under 23 mens development team and the Orica-Scott women's team are now all without any CA funding.

Participation in the grass roots of the sport hasn't been a strong point for CA, but programs like 'Let's Ride', building riding skills in primary-age budding cyclists, and 'She Rides', aimed at bringing female cyclists into the community, are recent positive steps.

Beyond that, most people see Cycling Australia membership as being worth little beyond the insurance. State and local bodies are the only ones engaging beyond the absolute beginner stage of development. Advocacy groups like the Amy Gillet Foundation and others are much more vocal in lobbying for improved cycling conditions for riders on our roads. Event organisers are left on their lonesome when it comes to putting together events.

That compares poorly that with other countries. I was over in England recently and was able to witness the difference British Cycling is making over there first hand. Advocacy to keep the roads safer and encourage more cycling-based infrastructure. A streamlined website that connects riders to all the events happening across the country from national series races to sportives, to junior races, all the way down to organised rides.

There's information for event organisers, event insurance, easy access to information on how to apply for things like road permits and an online framework when registering to run a higher level event. In Australia, at the National Road Series level, such support would be invaluable, with a dearth of organisers currently one of the main barriers to a cohesive race calendar.

It's all very achievable, but not with the current tunnel-visioned focus on gold medals at the Olympics that CA is currently employing.

Sure, Australian cycling can't have all the nice things that we'd like, only as much as we can afford. But would we prefer that a few kids get starry eyes once every four years? Or should we build a system that can accommodate those that want to ride a bike, race domestically or see Australians competing at the top level all year round against the best in international competition?