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Cycling Australia has appointed former Victorian premier Steve Bracks to head up its board, to help continue driving the nation’s cycling body toward financial sustainability and perhaps even pull the split cycling disciplines a little closer together.
The 62-year-old Bracks, who was a popular state leader known for his amiability, hasn’t walked into the position at the easiest of times. On the international front Australian cycling failed to deliver on performance expectations at the Rio Olympics while at home the top level of domestic competition, the National Road Series, is in the midst of a review and Cycling Australia membership remained relatively flat the past financial year despite the fact that hefty growth targets were announced.
Then there is the less than healthy, but improving, financial position and the ongoing split between the disciplines of cycling, which means that Cycling Australia is one of three national cycling bodies overseeing road, track, cyclocross, mountain biking and BMX in Australia.
“I think the challenge is what attracted me to take up the role as chair,” Bracks, who is replacing a retiring Malcolm Speed, told CyclingTips in a phone interview.
The challenge and perhaps also the potential to be instrumental in the process of delivering a sustainable future for the organisation and sport.
“There is a great base on which to work, and if we can get unity across the peak sporting bodies in the future that would be a great achievement,” said Bracks. “If we can make sure after gaining that, that we have a clear unequivocal strategic direction which everyone signs off on … I think that would be the key.”
The political negotiation skills, which helped Bracks to get elected to lead the state of Victoria three times before he retired in 2007, may indeed come in handy when it comes to trying to build bridges between cycling disciplines that have not always seen eye to eye.
Both BMX Australia and Mountain Bike Australia, which also includes cyclocross, operate separately from Cycling Australia with their own licensing and membership structure. Cycling Australia does run the BMX high performance program, alongside its road and track programs, but BMX Australia has been attempting, unsuccessfully so far, to change that.
“Bringing about unity and a unified position for cycling in this country, having all facets of cycling on the one page, heading in the one direction, with the one strategic objective. That is important,” said Bracks, who later added that one of his key skills was his ability to bring people together.
Bracks may not appear an obvious choice for the position at first glance. Since retiring from politics he has taken on various roles on boards within the business sector, including chairmanship of the superannuation fund CBus, and honorary positions such as acting as an adviser to the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. But he also does have a history in sporting organisations as chair of AFL SportsReady and he headed the UCI Road World Championships organising committee when it was held in Victoria in 2010.
He is a regular recreational rider who, when asked how often he rides, came up with the oft used response of keen cyclists “not as much as I’d like to” before outlining a three time a week regime that clocks up around 130 to 140 kilometres. His involvement in the organisation of the World Championships also promoted an interest in the bigger picture of the sport of cycling.
“I think I can make a contribution … I think my skills can be used to assist the board and the direction of cycling in the future,” said Bracks.
One area crucial to the future of Cycling Australia, and that the group has had considerable trouble with over the past few years, is financial sustainability.
Cycling Australia isn’t in the tenuous financial position it was in late 2014 when Malcolm Speed became president to help in the process of steadying the ship and Nick Green joined as chief executive. Back then Cycling Australia was propped up with a $2 million recapitalisation loan after reporting a hefty loss of $1.85 million in the 2013/14 financial year.
The organisation has delivered a profit in the past two years, however its finances are still far from healthy as positive results in the low hundreds of thousands aren’t enough to quickly restore the asset to liability balance. Cycling Australia reported an accumulated deficit of $2.38 million at the end of the 2015/16 financial year (which finished June 30), a continued trend of gradual improvement from the $2.87 million deficit mid-2014.*
The auditors of the financial results still felt it necessary for the financial year ended June 30, 2016 to follow the procedure of adding an “emphasis of matter paragraph” to Cycling Australia’s financial report. This indicates “the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern …,” said a section of the paragraph.
Bracks said he saw it as extremely important to address the issue of providing a long-term sustainable financial position going forward.
“Thats something that I will seek to achieve as chair and the team will seek to achieve. That can be done. The value capture proposition is significant with this organisation … and making sure we apply that effectively and well and sustainably for the future is something I see as a high priority.”
Bracks will preside over his first Cycling Australia board meeting in Brisbane on March 3. There will also be two additional new board members joining him. Steven Drake, a former Commonwealth Games cyclist and past managing director of UBS Investment Bank, was appointed to the board and Duncan Murray, the inaugural chair of the Amy Gillette foundation, will fill the deputy chair position.
*A change in accounting policies in 2015/16 regarding the way membership revenue was handled lead to a restatement of accumulated deficit figures from previous years taking into account the impact of the change to provide a consistent basis for comparison.