Cycling Australia has had a bad 24 months. That much is clear as day. At a time when the sport's profile is at record levels, and cycling's elite sporting success is as good as it's ever been, the contrast to the health of its administration could not be more stark.
It's overspent its budget, despite an increase in funding from the Australian Sports Commission, has seen a stagnation in its membership base, and has had to overhaul its board completely under strict conditions dictated by the ASC. The longest serving board member is former president, now director, Gerry Ryan, and he's been involved less than 18 months. But, we're told, the clouds are clearing, and the organisation is set for a new era of stability and growth.
But how, one wonders, is the organisation even in this position, less than five years after an Australian won the Tour de France? It would be coy to ignore the 'Armstrong Effect', the backpedalling of a legacy, that's done huge damage to the sport's reputation both here and abroad. Money vanished from the sport at a time many expected it to accelerate its growth, a vacuum that left organisations like Cycling Australia, and Australia's professional domestic teams and events, reeling.
It would be unfair however, and indeed wrong, to level all the blame at the disgraced Texan. Cycling Australia inflicted its own self-harm. An otherwise modest organisation that had balanced its books for the best part of two decades under former CEO Graham Fredericks went big in 2010, with a plan to capture the 'rivers of gold' from managing its own events suite. According to Cycling Australia, "[We] entered into a joint venture agreement with Grass Roots Australia and Michael Edgley via Meaesh Marketing to undertake and manage its commercial affairs".
Meaesh, a small consultancy firm based in Victoria, was given plenty of leeway by Cycling Australia, as a result of the vision Edgely had sold. The joint venture purported to do what the organisation had failed to do for two decades; properly harness the sport's popularity. But ultimately, it delivered very little. New projects were talked up, but stalled. The events bled money. Creditors weren't paid. As The Age's Samantha Lane wrote last Saturday: "[It] was condemned as a spectacular failure and, in April last year, it was declared dissolved and announced that its mastermind, former CA marketing boss Michael Edgley, was moving on. CA stated at the time that its events department enjoyed almost immediate savings in excess of $1million."
But even with the ship righted in the past 12 months, a begrudging loan from the ASC plugging the organisation's financial woes in the immediate term, Cycling Australia isn't out of the woods. As Lane concludes, "while CA is still nutting out its new masterplan, the clear way forward for cycling in Australia remains not only undeclared but unresolved".
What got Cycling Australia into the position it is now was an appetite to expand quickly, reaching for aspiration that on reflection probably exceeded the reality of where the sport is in this country, and perhaps even where it can go. Which is interesting, a lesson for pause of the likes of new CEO Nick Green and President Malcolm Speed as they undertake their future strategy for Cycling Australia. Both come from successful, sporting ventures, Green from the Olympic movement where he was chef de mission, and Speed where he worked with the International Cricket Council. They're high profile appointments - they're also ambitious ones.
The board hopes Green and Speed can deliver the kind of prosperity that their former charges enjoyed, and take Cycling Australia to a point where it can once more dream of the kind of grandeur promised under Edgely. But how big can cycling get? How far it can it really go? We're often told that cycling has massive potential in the country, that the sport is a sleeping commercial giant. And yet the biggest revenue source has always been, and remains, the Australian Sports Commission. There are no gate receipts, and major corporates are still dissuaded from aligning themselves with cycling for fear of the doping reprisal. The biggest events are in Europe, late at night, and even the international scene is far from rich.
As much as Edgely has been eviscerated in the wake of the Grass Roots Australia Joint Venture, his failure, as spectacular as it was, should also be a lesson to any future administrators. Because Edgely didn't act alone. Cycling Australia, good people too, put good money after bad chasing the big time and it came up nought. So, while we believe that the sport has untapped potential, perhaps, we need also acknowledge that at least for now, it remains a sport on the fringes, boasting modest television audiences, low commercial returns, and a faithful, but ultimately rather small, membership base.
There may well be rivers of gold yet untapped, but equally, there may not, and just because you're sold on an idea that you want to be true, doesn't make it so.