The decision by Cycling Australia to reduce funding to the MTB XC high performance program was a difficult but necessary one, writes Philip Gomes.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

I was as surprised as any cycling fan would be in hearing the news of Cycling Australia's decision to reduce funding for the Tasmanian based high performance cross country mountain bike program.

But
on reflection it shouldn't come as a surprise, sports administration in
Australia is not getting any easier in an increasingly tough financial
climate - in fact it's about to get a lot harder.

But as Mountain Bike Australia
(MTBA) pointed out in a press release, support for the Olympic and
World Championship program is still intact, and though reduced, there
is still some support for a few key athletes identified as real
prospects.

The hard headed calculus by CA is frankly the right
one if you look at the sport as an elite endeavour, which is their
specific brief. CA is there to help athletes bring home medals at the
elite international level for Australia.

So they made the
decision, "in the belief there are limited Olympic medal prospects for
London 2012 within mountain biking." It may hurt, but it is true.

As
Tony Scott, Mountain Bike Australia's executive officer, said of the
announcement, "Although the reduction in funding for our high
performance program is disappointing MTBA remains committed to
supporting our elite riders and providing a pathway to the elite level
of the sport.

"A key part of that is the current four round
national series, the national championships and state series run by our
member clubs.

"The national series has always been an
important stepping stone for riders with ambitions to race on the
international stage and has been the proving ground for some of
Australia's best cyclists, across any discipline of the sport,
including Cadel Evans and Trent Lowe."

Clearly the athletes
won't be abandoned but they will have to be more resourceful and
self-reliant if they want to go on to the big show.

Though not directly linked, I think in the wake of the recently released Crawford Report
into sport, this decision by CA is one we're going to have to get used
to now, the Government (and sporting organisations) is not a bottomless
pit of money from which you build athletic excellence - at the elite
level we're going to have to pick winners.

It's also possible
that Australian cycling fans may have to get used to seeing our riders
bringing home the gold a bit less often. And I think we need to have a
serious discussion in this country on how we view sport in society.

The Crawford Report, raised a ruckus
because it dared to suggest we redirect our sporting resources toward
mass participation rather than elite successes - all in the name of a
healthier and fitter population.

I think it a difficult position
to argue against but I also think cycling (and mountain biking) is in a
perfect position to fulfill exactly that function.

And
certainly when you look at the mass participation of riders in Enduro
events, the sport of mountain biking has a fantastic base that will
keep the sport alive and vibrant despite this momentary monetary
setback at the elite level.

MTBA's Scott was also keen to point
out this strength explaining that, "the strengths of mountain biking
remain, regardless of government funding."

In fact, the sport
has seen strong growth at a grass roots level and with MTBA showing 10
per cent annual growth in membership numbers over the past four years.


MTBA goes on to note that the success of riders like current 4X world
champion Jared Graves and dual downhill world champion Sam Hill
occurred outside an elite program.

So while we can be
momentarily disappointed by this, we also have to understand CA's
difficult decision and back ourselves - as the success of Jared Graves
and Sam Hill show, it may be harder but there is more than one pathway
to gold.