The latest on AusCycling: An open letter from Cycling Australia
AusCycling is an ambitious initiative that seeks to unify cycling disciplines in Australia. The goal is to increase the sport’s commercial opportunities, reduce inefficiencies that exist in the current system, and to grow the sport at all levels.
The project has been more than 18 months in the making and is now entering a crucial phase. The AusCycling team spent September travelling around the country, pitching the concept in every state and territory. Now it’s up to members, clubs and state/territory bodies, across disciplines, to decide whether to adopt the new system. Each of the 19 organisations will go to the vote in the next couple months.
Ahead of those votes, Cycling Australia CEO Steve Drake and Chair Duncan Murray have penned an open letter, reflecting on the roadshow, addressing the common concerns with the AusCycling proposal, and looking to what might come next. You can read the open letter in full below. And if you haven’t already, be sure to read our detailed breakdown of what the project involves and why it’s proven so controversial in some parts of the country.
It was great to meet so many engaged, passionate and active members from all cycling disciplines at the recent AusCycling roadshows that visited every state and territory in Australia.
It is abundantly clear coming out of that process that there is a shared ambition to grow cycling in all its forms and help make it a regular part of an active lifestyle for more Australians.
There is no doubt that cycling is the sleeping giant of Australian sport and recreation. We know around 2.5 million Australians ride a bike every year, yet the combined membership of the 19 separate organisations that administer cycling across the country is just 55,000.
To put that figure in perspective, 11 AFL clubs each have higher membership numbers than cycling and it is less than a third of the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia’s membership base of 180,000. So it is well and truly time to wake the giant and realise our potential, which is what AusCycling is aimed at achieving.
To briefly recap, the headline vision and objectives of AusCycling are to:
– Hand control of cycling back to the clubs, by making them the direct owners of the new organisation.
– Make cycling more accessible and cost effective by introducing one race licence for all disciplines.
– Do away with the shortcomings of having the sport run by 19 organisations, with 19 plans and sets of priorities. This will also enable us to move from 19 small teams of generalists trying to do everything from racing to bike education and policy, to well-resourced specialists, based in existing offices all over the country, both supporting the grass roots and dealing with big strategic issues and programs. It’s about preserving what we’re all doing well today, providing better resources and filling in the white space where we’re not doing what we should be.
– Unify under one banner and grow our membership base to give us a louder voice in lobbying for better outcomes for cyclists, regardless of the type of bike they ride.
Roadshow: common themes and questions
In any proposal for structural change it is only natural that people will have strong views and lots of questions about how a new model will operate. Change is tough and needs to be done at the right pace. The headings below address the themes and issues that were regularly raised at the roadshows.
Support for change
The desire for positive change in Australian cycling emerged strongly at all roadshows. Members appear to agree that the current system is inefficient and acts as a handbrake on changes in structure and approach that would benefit all riders and clubs.
They understand cycling is competing against other sports for the attention and time of participants, including some well-funded professional codes, and that our current structure makes it harder to compete than it should be. The AusCycling Steering Committee has spent the last 18 months developing this proposal to support positive changes to the way cycling is run in Australia.
Simpler, cheaper memberships
There was a very positive response to our simplified membership model and single race licence that breaks down historical barriers between the disciplines. Attendees liked that the cost of riding will be reduced for almost all riders under AusCycling, and especially families that ride together.
They welcomed the chance to have a crack at a MTB race without having to buy another licence. There was general agreement that the current system where a race licence has a different price in every state (which many members were unaware of) makes no sense.
Positive impact on clubs
Another major theme that resonated across all cycling disciplines was the desire for AusCycling to have minimal impact at club level, or better, only a positive impact. We can assure you that the latter is exactly what is proposed.
Under AusCycling there will be no impact on club assets or club-level sponsorships. The main change will be a welcome one, where greater support and more tools will be provided to make the job of running clubs easier, via a dedicated and well-resourced Club Services team.
Most questions or issues that clubs face today have answers somewhere in the system. If a club wants a road management plan, a template MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Rotary for the provision of volunteers, a curriculum for a Ride Leaders course, or a draft sponsorship proposal to a local car dealer, to name but a few, they should be able to call a local or national office, have the phone answered rapidly and the documents emailed in minutes.
That rarely happens, despite multiple versions of the above almost certainly existing in the system somewhere. That is because most offices have between 1 and 10 staff, who are all trying to do everything. But if there is a specialist team doing just the above, albeit based all around the country, things start to change for the better. The clubs own the organisation, can hold it to account, and can demand better support.
A NSW club recently also suggested that the model be modified so that there is a formal ‘Clubs’ sub-committee of the AusCycling Board that is comprised just of club presidents, which acts as an umbilical cord between the grassroots and the Board, and that the AusCycling management team run a clubs forum in a different city every six months. We’ll support both ideas.
Unification – assets and people
There were understandably questions about why State assets and staff should be transferred to AusCycling. The contribution of State assets into a single, unified body is an important principle of the proposal.
When combined with the proposed $2.5 million contribution from Sport Australia, the resulting organisation will be set up for success, enabling AusCycling to broaden the range of services for the benefit of all, with a scope that none of the existing bodies can provide.
In short, 19 organisations create significant inefficiencies and place extra costs on the system as a whole, as well as delaying the implementation of new and better systems.
One State proposed to us earlier this year that they would like to break away and start buying their own insurance policy, despite the economic and breadth-of-policy benefits of a ‘group-buy’. Another is currently suggesting that they would like to run a standalone digital entry system, despite the benefits that could be obtained from all organisations using a single CRM [customer relationship management] system with the benefit of it becoming a stepping stone to a national grading system and the commercial and communications importance of a centralised database.
When you have 19 organisations, or 16, or nine, they will inevitably pull in different directions. We can’t refine what we are doing today, and tackle the really big challenges like child participation, bicycle education, pathways from club racing to elite, a national advocacy voice with weight and clout, infrastructure and transport planning, and promoting the role cycling can play in health and mental health policy and programs, whilst we are so disjointed.
Which takes us to a suggestion that has been raised from time to time at a State level – that we merge the three NSOs (CA, BMXA and MTBA), leave the 16 State organisations in place, and see how that goes for a while as a ‘stepping stone’. There are two principal reasons why this is not feasible.
First, under such a proposal not much will improve. There may be some change, but not much reform. For us to tackle the big challenges, we need one management team, employed by one entity, reporting to one CEO and one Board. And for that to happen, that organisation needs to be able to make payroll in all the State offices and pay all the creditors who are owed money in those States. That requires access to funds.
In short, the way forward has to be based on a unified management team who have clear access to the financial resources of all existing organisations so that they can run the new organisation. Anything else is just setting ourselves up for a new version of under-performance, and confusing change for reform. All three national Boards are unified and clear on this.
Secondly, this ‘stepping stone’ model is not supported by the other NSOs [national sporting organisations]. Any effective change proposal involves compromise by everyone. MTBA currently operates on an integrated national structure with over 16,000 individual members. That means you cannot merge the NSOs and leave everything else as it is. There isn’t a voting structure that works in that situation.
It would mean asking MTBA to create a new set of State based organisations. MTBA’s Board and executive are clear that they have no interest in trying to create a new federated structure, which would add cost and complexity to their system. And any proposal that MTBA become part of the other existing State organisations is inconsistent with the key principle of the three organisations coming together on an equal footing.
In short, the MTBA Board are clear that they have no interested in re-federating, and that if we as a system lack the courage for proper reform, they are out.
Loss of ‘what we are doing well today’
A number of people have pointed to the number of staff who are already doing a great job at a local level, and said that they fear that that will cease to be the case under AusCycling. That’s the opposite of our intention. Our objective is to keep those people in place, to keep all the State offices in place, but provide them (and the clubs) with more support and resources and offer them better career pathways.
On a financial point, others have questioned what will happen to the availability of State-based funding going forward. The vast majority of State governments have made it clear that there will be no impact, as they already fund multiple national organisations, subject to a contractual requirement that the funding is spent in the State in question.
We have also been asked about how we can ensure that the culture of AusCycling is the best it can be, given that some of the organisations in question have had cultural shortcomings in the past. Culture is an ephemeral thing. And it is ours, all of ours, to shape.
None of the NSOs will survive the reform. We are starting again. All the disciplines will be represented equally on the Board. The team will be made up of passionate people who love cycling in all its forms, and who are from a modern era. Again, we are very optimistic.
Are there alternatives?
We have spoken above about how reform requires the need for one management team with access to the necessary capital to pay the bills and be set up for success rather than an under-capitalised mediocracy. We have been socialising the model with State Boards since 2018. We have been meeting clubs face to face for over a year (we were welcomed into some States to start the conversation much earlier than others).
We have consistently asked for viable alternatives to be put forward, in a fleshed out, meaningful (rather than sound bite) way. We are yet to receive a single, written, fleshed out alternative proposal (other than a one sentence suggestion that we merge the three NSOs and change nothing at a State level).
A great deal of time and energy has been invested into developing the AusCycling proposal. We have listened to concerns and issues and sought to address them along the way. Examples of that include the State and National Advisory Councils with a position on the AusCycling Board for the President of the National Advisory Council; the proposal for a formal ‘Clubs’ sub-committee of the AusCycling Board that is comprised just of club presidents; running a clubs forum in a different city every six months and amendments to the AusCycling constitution to respond to comments from Western Australia and elsewhere.
A revised Constitution will be made available shortly. Having spent as much time and effort as we have, we are confident that this is the best path forward for cycling.
‘Pace of the process’ and ‘can we have more information’?
This process started in March 2018. We have had monthly discussions with the State Presidents for most of that time. We have been around the country to all capital cities twice to meet with clubs (unless we were instructed that we were not welcome).
We started meeting clubs in many contexts, including over meals in pubs and in club rooms, 12 months ago. We have discussed it beside berms at BMX Nationals in Bunbury with new found BMX friends. We have moved slowly and with respect, and have invested an enormous amount of time, as have many people from all the disciplines, as well as Sport Australia.
In some quarters, people are concentrating late in the piece, often because they have had less exposure to the detail for various reasons beyond their and our control. One State organisation wrote to us recently asking us to not bring the roadshow to their State. We went regardless. But there are others who are well versed in the detail, albeit less vocal, and their message is that we need to respect the process, which has been clearly laid out for some time, and let democracy run its course.
Which takes us to the detail and more information. There is a detailed deck of slides from the roadshows downloadable on the AusCycling website, videos of the roadshow presentations, as well as answers to many frequently asked questions. And there is the appropriately detailed layer of information beneath that, such as organisational charts and financial modelling.
We have gone to great lengths to engage on the detail, including running Zoom ‘walkthroughs’ of the financial modelling for the State CEOs. Which leads us to a delicate place.
There are many club and State voices, as we said above, requesting that we respect the process that was laid out some time ago. There are others asking that we defer the process so that some form of hybrid model can be agreed. But the former voices also make the sound point that any 100% consensus version, it has been made clear to us, will not see all staff employed solely by AusCycling, and that that team, if it could come into existence, would not have unfettered access to the finances it would need to move forward with clarity and confidence.
In short, for the reasons we have set out, we do not believe that a mere merger of the three NSOs will achieve the true reform that cycling needs.
What if AusCycling is not adopted?
That is a difficult question to answer. The good news would be that for the first time in the sport’s history we have catalysed a conversation which has, at its core, an acknowledgement that the status quo has unsustainable flaws and that broad structural change is needed. That’s progress, of which we will be proud.
Perhaps our successors will navigate a way forward on the basis of this work. But in the short term we fear that costs will continue to rise (insurance, membership), good but poorly supported people will continue to work their hearts out at a State level until they burn out, clubs will struggle or thrive almost solely as a function of what they do for themselves rather than what they get from the centre, and the big headwinds will continue to blow over us – road racing struggling in many quarters whilst Zwift thrives, grassroots track dying despite pockets of health-driven by passionate individuals and the ‘fixie’ craze, kids heading for game consoles and phones rather than the park on their bikes, and an appalling underinvestment in participation and infrastructure.
Change is tough. Doubt and fear are natural reactions. We will see.
Over the next weeks the State organisations will publish notices of meetings to vote on the AusCycling proposal. Other than in the ACT (where individual members vote) and Tasmania (where the board and some non-cycling clubs also vote) the voters at these meetings are the clubs. If you support AusCycling, we encourage you to lobby your club officials to vote in favour of the resolutions.
If you have any questions in relation to any aspect of the AusCycling proposal, please feel free to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Despite the volume of inbound communications, we will do our best to respond personally and in a timely manner.
Steve Drake and Duncan Murray
Where do you stand on the AusCycling initiative? Would you like to see it go through? Or do you have concerns?