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Cycling Australia announced yesterday that Gerry Ryan, one of Australia’s most successful businessmen and the owner of GreenEDGE Cycling, has been elected as the national body’s president. Few would question Mr. Ryan’s commitment to and the support he’s provided for Australian cycling in the past 20 years. But is he the right man for the Cycling Australia presidency?
Back in October it was announced that Cycling Australia’s CEO Graham Fredricks would be stepping down, following in the footsteps of president Klaus Mueller who had resigned two months earlier. These departures came in the aftermath of the Wood Review into CA’s operations.
The findings and recommendations from that report were released back in January, amid Australia Sports Commission (ASC) concerns about cycling governance in Australia. In April the ASC released a report about investments provided for various sports in Australia, including the following sentence about Cycling Australia:
The ASC expects Cycling Australia to implement the findings from the Wood Review as a matter of priority in 2013/14.
The document reads:
Cycling in Australia has structural challenges that limit its potential to grow, particularly given the broad public popularity of the sport in a range of settings. Currently there are three major bodies representing cycling in Australia; Cycling Australia, Bicycle Motorcross Australia (BMX) and Mountain Bike Australia meaning there is not a single entity representing the sport.
There is also a large recreational biking sector that operates independently of these organisations. The sport would benefit from, and has committed to, integration.
While all parties are open to negotiations on achieving integration, progress to date has been slow and the ASC will be taking a more active role in negotiations. Identifying a new President of Cycling Australia is an urgent priority and significant progress is required over next six months.
In the absence of any on-the-record comment, we can only assume that Klaus Mueller and Graham Fredericks did not implement the governance measures required by the ASC. In order to continue with the level of government funding they’d had in the past, Cycling Australia needed to implement changes at the top.
Ryan and Anderson to lead
In a Cycling Australia press conference today with Gerry Ryan and new interim CEO, Adrian Anderson, Mr Ryan said the following about the role he’ll be undertaking:
I can bring to this organisation some commercialisation in terms of my experience in the commercial world. What I’m about to … assist in is change — change management. To help develop a business model that is successful and sustainable.
The most popular question I’ve had put to me in the last 24 hours is what’s my vision. I don’t have a vision. I’m not a stakeholder. It is my duty, and with Adrian [Anderson] coming on board, over the next couple months to review how the operation functions, who are the stakeholders and to try and build a business model based on best practices .
[We’ll] certainly model ourselves on other sports in Australia, for instance what they’ve done with yachting and we’ll be looking to the most successful sporting cycling model: the Brits. The British system over the last ten years has developed into a very slick operation based on a business model and we’ll certainly be looking to take certain aspects out of that.
It will be our role to do a total review and report back to the board with our findings and for the board to develop a vision for cycling.
When asked if he sees this as a long-term role for him or if he’s there to fix problems then get out, Ryan said “I’ll be here as long as I’m required and as long as people want me here I’ll keep that position.”
Conflicts of interest?
When the news broke that Gerry Ryan will be the new Cycling Australia president, many people asked whether the appointment creates conflicts of interest.
Ryan is a successful entrepreneur who owns businesses in manufacturing, entertainment and sport, including, of course, GreenEDGE Cycling. Ryan is ranked at 161 on the 2013 BRW Rich 200 list with a personal fortune of $310 million. He obviously has the money to spend and appears to do so for purely philanthropic reasons, not for recognition.
Ryan has funded individuals in the sport for more than two decades after first investing in Kathy Watt, a move which helped her win an Olympic medal at Barcelona in 1992. Since then, he’s been extremely generous in financially supporting cycling at a number of levels, much of which goes unpublicised.
So what’s the problem with the man who has given so generously to Australian cycling being the president of the sport’s national body? Shouldn’t he have a say in how his money is spent?
I’m certainly not suggesting anything untoward here, but it would be naive to think that Gerry Ryan’s hefty contribution to the sport of cycling in Australia doesn’t come with an indirect influence over CA decisions.
That said, there’s little doubt Gerry Ryan has the sport’s best intentions at heart and will act accordingly as the president of CA. But as the owner of Australia’s first and only WorldTour team, and considering his personal financial contributions to cycling in this country, some conflicts of interest are sure to arise in future.
For example, how can he defend or support someone involved in a scandal within Orica-GreenEDGE and at the same time take a firm stand as the president of CA? Or how could the selection of a World Championships squad appear to be fairly picked if it was seen to favour riders from Orica-GreenEDGE? Or how decisions are made that impact development pathways which are not part of the AIS?
When asked at today’s press conference about the possibility of conflicting interests, Mr. Ryan said the following:
Before I took up the position I went through a process with the board. There isn’t, according to the board — and certainly the Sports Commission ran an eye over what I do in cycling — they don’t see a conflict and in fact they said [Ryan’s other cycling interests are] probably beneficial going forward.
In the inevitable situation where there is a conflict of interest, Mr Ryan said “It’ll go through the process — the sports commission and also CA — and I would step aside.”
But perception is reality and unfortunately even if Gerry Ryan were to stand down from issues and decisions that appear to have a conflict of interest, you could argue it diminishes his power as president such that he can’t properly exercise his position. High positions such as this require absolute independence.
Adrian Anderson, CA’s interim CEO disagrees:
I don’t think there a sport where conflicts of interest don’t exist. Like Mike Fitzpatrick’s the chairman of the AFL and he’s a shareholder of Telstra and ANZ Stadium or one of the equity holders. It’s the nature of sport that if you want people that are passionate and good and involved, there’s going to conflicts from time to time. Otherwise you’ll never get quality people like Gerry involved. You’ve just got to manage [the conflict] if there is one.
Cycling Australia clearly thinks that the benefits Gerry Ryan bring to the table outweigh the potential conflicts of interest, but it will be interesting to see how these inevitable conflicts of interest are handled and if he can fulfil his role properly when they arise.
It also remains to be seen if Gerry Ryan’s role as president will be temporary, to allow him to shake things up and put the required governance measures in place, or if this will be a long-lasting position.
What do you think? Is Gerry Ryan the right man for the top job at Cycling Australia? Are you concerned by the potential conflicts of interest?