You were busy before, with your role as CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation and a mother of three. Have you been able to shed other responsibilities in order to take on the new UCI roles?
We run a busy life, my husband, my family and I, and we have a philosophy that you’re here on this planet for a short time but there are lots of opportunities. We have the opportunity to enjoy our existence but part of that enjoyment is what you can give back to society. And that’s through your own family, your own workplace, but also the bigger picture.
Adding the UCI roles — the UCI Oceania presidency and the UCI management committee — has definitely taken my husband and I from one level of time management to another, and from one thinking space to another. Because actually, there are two very distinct positions in one.
When you’re appointed president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation you are automatically appointed to the management committee of the UCI as well. They’re related, but there are two very distinct sets of responsibilities that go with those positions. It’s like being appointed to two boards at the same time. Which means your mental jigsaw becomes a lot more complex.
Basically, on top of my full-time role with the Amy Gillett Foundation I devote a certain amount of every working evening to Oceania and then I have a part of the evening that’s UCI-specific. It’s just about managing what I can do.
So what do the two roles involve?
My Oceania role is primarily about lobbying the UCI to ensure that the Oceania region is very well represented in decision-making and discussions at the UCI level. It’s about providing a strong voice and that means working with Cycling Australia, with Bike New Zealand, and with Fiji and Guam, to represent their strengths and interests.
So it’s about facilitating growth, about representing the promoters in this region who would love to be able to promote events if they had a better understanding of the paths and processes for securing events.
And then you get to the UCI part of my role and that’s about the decision-making for the governing body for the world of cycling. It’s extremely complex, and the UCI’s a reasonably small organisation for the remit that it has. So it has an extremely challenging task to promote, provide for and facilitate cycling on a world scale.
The world body sets the regulation for all parts of the sport including regulations for regions as well as disciplines and commissions and so on, so at that management committee level where those decisions are made, I have an equal say.
I’m one of 15 members plus the president — plus 3 honorary positions — so we are 16 people that vote on every decision. Each vote is equal. So that’s my opportunity to work for and lobby for change. It’s also my opportunity to voice issues on behalf of our region. But at the same time I’m representing the interests of world cycling. So there’s a balance between what’s good for our region versus what’s good for cycling on the world scale.
What are some of the initiatives you’ve been working on since taking up the Oceania presidency?
The first thing we did was to understand where the priorities of time and effort need to go. As with anything you can only achieve so much with limited capacity and it’s important to recognise that the Oceania confederation has virtually zero funding. There are no paid positions to support the executive or board to do its work. So it’s all volunteer-based, and I don’t think the general public recognises that.
So we’ve got to start by asking “how can we harness resources and people?”. It’s about reaching out to the community and saying “we want to do a great job of promoting cycling in this region but for us to do that we need your help. And we’re listening to all your feedback and all your suggestions, so let’s turn those suggestions into actions. Come and work with us”. And people are going “oh ok”. And then you find out who really wants to come and work with you and who doesn’t.
Fairly or not, the UCI probably doesn’t have the best public support at the moment. How can you get people contributing their time to the UCI if that’s the mindset?
First of all, that’s your statement, not mine. The public sentiment towards the UCI, as portrayed in the media, has room for improvement. And that’s not saying anything out of turn, however the opportunity at this level and in this region is to be part of the community.
Whatever the perceptions are at a UCI level, there’s recognition of a positive voice for change here in Oceania and that that person, me, sits at the UCI but is also quite openly taking the views of the community inside.
I think that part of the groundswell of support behind my nomination for this position and my success — although it was a vote of nations — was the people who really “get it”. We’re part of the everyday community, we’re quite clearly in touch with what’s going on, and we’ve got an approach that’s quite personable and involving. I think I am the only person with a Twitter account on the management committee, for example.
What’s the reporting structure? Do you report to Pat McQuaid?
Well Pat McQuaid is the president and we’re basically his executive. There are three meetings every year where you’re face-to-face in whatever city you’re in but it’s basically an open-door policy so a lot of work goes on outside of those meetings. There’s not a day that goes by where there’s no correspondence on a matter.
Of course the UCI has its management structures and employed staff who do all of the day-to-day work but the management committee is charged with governance and making decisions on behalf of the UCI. So it’s a very important part of our role that we’re available and accessible and that we’re very informed.
Has your role at the Amy Gillett Foundation helped you in your new positions at the UCI?
The Amy Gillett Foundation and Cycling Australia — as part of the Oceania Confederation — already work quite closely together. We jointly own a program called AustCycle which is Australia’s only nationally accredited program on cycling skills and education.
More generally, the UCI certainly has a vision for greater participation which they call Cycling for All. The Amy Gillett Foundation is about safety and it’s a lack of safety that’s one of the major factors in why people don’t ride bikes. So the work of the foundation is directly supportive of the vision of the UCI: cycling can be a way of life for everyone.
And that also means that when we’re talking cycling in the community I can talk with different ‘hats’ with clarity, representing everyone from grassroots cyclists to elite racers.
What are some of the challenges faced by the Oceania region when it comes to the development of cycling?
Well first, it’s important to understand that there are only four registered countries that are part of the Oceania Cycling Confederation — Australian, New Zealand, Fiji and Guam.
There are many island nations in the Oceania region — more than 20 of them — some of whom would love to be a member of the UCI and an affiliate to the Oceania Confederation, such as Tahiti, and Papua New Guinea. So part of my role is developing a pathway so those countries can actually become associated with our confederation.
With the countries that are already part of the confederation, it’s like there are two gears. There are the developed countries like Australia and New Zealand that punch above their weight in terms of performance in the international arena, across all disciplines. For these countries, it’s about growing and maintaining our standing in the international community.
The question is: how do we support athletes that are coming up from through the system, to give them access to international racing on our turf? It’s about rebuilding the UCI events in Australia and New Zealand. And how do we facilitate better pathways for Australians to be travelling to Asia to be participating in more international competitions? So it’s really about providing better opportunities for the racing community, across every discipline.
But that’s the sporting part of Oceania. Then there’s the development side where you’ve got countries like Fiji and Guam. Their challenge is getting bikes for kids to ride. It’s about getting a bike path or BMX park where the kids can ride their bikes in a safe environment..
So that’s where my role at the Amy Gillett Foundation add so much value because it’s basically about grassroots participation and safety and promoting cycling as a way of life.
In Guam we’ve got interest from people who want to become accredited cycling instructors because they’ve got a bunch of kids that ride bikes but they have no idea how to turn them into racing cyclists. So we’re working with Cycling Australia with their sport development program to provide coaching and coaching accreditation.
Is there value in joining the Oceania and Asian Confederations at some point?
I’ve already had discussions with the Asian president to talk about what our relationship looks like. There’s been a lot of hype about whether our regions will join together — that’s a discussion that’s a long, long way down the track. But the first thing is a discussion about how we can benefit from each other.
Australia’s got the elite sport pedigree — we’ve got the success at an international level; we know how to perform, and we know how to achieve results. Asia has the economy. So you put those two together and with that comes great opportunity. The Asian sporting arena can learn from what we do, and we can benefit from the scale they have. So that conversation has already started, which is great.
But for example when you look at the Oceania Road Championships that are coming up, or the track champs back in December, surely, in the first instance, we should be inviting our continental neighbours to compete in our championships and they should be inviting us.
This would provide racing experience, it would provide a greater spectacle for the audience and a greater incentive for the community to come and watch. You can’t be the continental champion if it’s not your region, but you can win the race. A bit like when internationals could ride in the National Championships, but they they can’t any more.
It’s been five years since we saw the last UCI-level womens event held in Australia. What does the future look like for women’s cycling in Oceania?
It is our absolute desire and intent that there are UCI-level women’s events back in this region. Outside of the Oceania championships, which are a given, there are no women-specific UCI-level races in the Oceania region, whether it be a World Cup, a one-day race or a tour. And that’s a tragedy because it’s a decline on where we have been before.
We want to be providing opportunities for athletes to race at an elite level, without the cost and burden of going to Europe. To bring that to our shores is an opportunity that we’re missing. There are promoters that are willing to make it happen. But we need the funding, the support from government, the processes you need to go with the UCI to secure such events.
So we’re in the very early days of facilitating the pathways for us to regain or redevelop women’s UCI events over here. There are different ways of doing that, for instance by holding a women’s tour with an existing men’s tour — there are pros and cons to that — or standalone tours. There’s room for both in my opinion.
And is there scope for more men’s UCI events in Oceania in the future?
There’s a pinnacle event in January — the Tour Down Under — which is great, but there’s room for more at levels below the TDU’s World Tour status. It’s about promoting Australian and New Zealand as a destination in the winter months of Europe because once riders are here it’s very cost-effective. It provides opportunities for continental teams to race and create that win-win scenario. And there is an appetite for that as well.