What happens if road and track vote ‘no’ to AusCycling?

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This article was first published on CyclingTips on the afternoon of Tuesday November 26, 2019. Just a couple hours after it went live, BMX New South Wales made the surprise announcement that it would be voting against AusCycling. That means that three BMX states — Victoria, Western Australia and now New South Wales — are now likely to vote against the initiative, meaning BMX as a whole is unlikely to join AusCycling.

The article below suggests that BMX and MTB are likely to join AusCycling and questions what would happen it road and track doesn’t. It now seems likely that if AusCycling goes ahead, it will do so with only MTB coming over as a whole, pending that organisation’s vote this coming weekend.

See the end of the article (or click here) to read what might happen now that BMX is likely a ‘no’ as well.

As things currently stand, it looks unlikely that road and track cycling will be part of the AusCycling initiative to join Australia’s cycling disciplines. Cycling NSW and WestCycle indicated earlier this month that they’ll vote against the proposal in its current form and just last week Cycling Tasmania announced that it too would vote ‘no’.

But it’s not a done deal. The official vote won’t happen until the Cycling Australia EGM, likely to be held on December 16. There’s still time for the ‘no’ states to change their mind, not least Cycling New South Wales which has been asked by a coalition of its clubs to hold a special general meeting where AusCycling will be voted on officially, rather than through a controversial online poll.

WestCycle, too, hasn’t formally asked its clubs to vote on AusCycling — instead it has surveyed clubs to find out whether they will support an alternative, “partnership” structure.

But assuming that the three ‘no’ states hold firm, what does that mean for the AusCycling project? And what does it mean for cycling in Australia more generally?

Beyond messy

Well, for starters, it’s very complicated. Steve Drake, CEO of Cycling Australia and a member of the AusCycling Steering Committee, told CyclingTips that those behind the project haven’t given much thought to what happens if AusCycling doesn’t get every discipline’s support.

“One of the questions we’ve been asked along the way, or variations of it is, ‘What if this happens, what if that happens?’,” Drake said. “And there are so many different permutations and combinations that we basically have said, ‘Well, let’s just invest our time in trying to get the votes across the line and then if one of those eventualities happens, then we’ll evaluate it at the time.’”

Given the complexity of the AusCycling project, and the number of factors and organisations involved, it’s hard to say with any certainty what might happen if road and track vote ‘no’. But we can make some educated guesses.

AusCycling without road/track

At this point the most likely outcome seems to be that AusCycling comes into existence in early 2020 as an amalgamation of MTB and BMX. The question, then, would be: what does that mean for road and track cycling in Australia?

As Drake explained to CyclingTips, it seems entirely possible — if not likely — that the Cycling Australia states that voted ‘yes’ (currently Victoria, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia, with ACT likely on the way), could come across to AusCycling of their own accord. The same could be true of ‘yes’ clubs within the ‘no’ states.

“I think, over time, members and states would leak across into AusCycling,” Drake said. “They will see the advantages of a unified, cohesive management team. And that’s the real difference. They have the ability to improve the efficiency of the management of the sport and improve the outcomes for clubs and members.

“You’ve got four states already that have voted to say they want to go to AusCycling. Even in Tasmania, four out of the five clubs that voted ‘yes’ were clubs with members — because remember there’s clubs in Tasmania with no members — those four clubs represented 66% of the members in Tasmania. I think I saw that the clubs that requisitioned the meeting in New South Wales represent 40% of the members in New South Wales.

“Potentially all of those clubs, plus the states that have already voted ‘yes’, would move straight across to AusCycling. I’m not saying that isn’t messy and mechanically I haven’t really looked at how that would work, but I can’t see why it can’t.”

Assuming that Cycling ACT votes ‘yes’ as expected, that could mean five of eight road/track state bodies moving over to AusCycling, leaving just the three ‘no’ states behind. And in those states, a good percentage of clubs could also move over.

It could well be that AusCycling contains over half of Australian road and track cycling clubs, even if road and track cycling as a whole (through Cycling Australia) votes ‘no’. What then of Cycling Australia?

The future of Cycling Australia

Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) is the government organisation responsible for funding and guiding Australian sport. The organisation has thrown its support behind AusCycling and pledged $2.5 million to the initiative. But as a statement from the organisation confirmed to CyclingTips, Sport Australia has a strong stance when it comes to the recognition and funding of national cycling bodies.

“Sport Australia has made our ongoing position clear – we only intend to recognise and fund one cycling entity from 1 January 2020, rather than continuing to fund three separate national bodies,” the statement read. “Sports that are not recognised as a National Sporting Organisation (NSO) are not eligible to receive any funding from Sport Australia, and receive reduced access to Sport Australia’s resources, programs and support.”

So given AusCycling would almost certainly become Sport Australia’s one supported NSO, what would happen to Cycling Australia (CA) as an organisation?

“It ceases to exist,” Drake said, before quickly changing tack. “No, that’s not quite true I suppose, because mountain bike didn’t have NSO status.”

But even if CA doesn’t cease to exist right away, it’s not hard to imagine its gradual (or perhaps not-so-gradual) decline.

“If you were MTB and BMX and you were looking to form AusCycling, the logical place to look for people to help run it is CA and CA state offices,” Drake continued. “Again, I haven’t been through all of the mechanics of thinking how it would work, but certainly with the states that have voted to go in, I can’t see why the same mechanics that we’re envisaging today — that is, the signing of business transfer agreements where all the assets and liabilities, including the employee obligations and so forth — [don’t] just transfer across.

“And then it’s really the question of what you do with the rest [of the staff] that remain — that gets a little bit messier.”

So at the very least, CA and its remaining state offices could lose a good percentage of their staff to AusCycling. And that’s likely just the start.

The organisation is still roughly $2 million in the red, and while that debt would have been nullified by the pooling of AusCycling resources (not least through Sport Australia’s’ $2.5 million cash injection), getting out from under that debt will be considerably trickier should road and track not join AusCycling.

A lack of Sport Australia funding will likely have a considerable impact. In the 2017-2018 financial year Cycling Australia received roughly $1.37 million from Sport Australia for non-high-performance endeavours, from a total revenue of $8.6 million (15%).

The issue of rider licensing will likely prove tricky too. As things currently stand, CA generates considerable revenue through its memberships — $2.1 million in the 2018 financial year (24% of total revenue). It’s not clear exactly how licensing would work for road/track riders and racers if AusCycling goes ahead without CA. Presumably, though, with many if not most road and track states and clubs likely to migrate across (and therefore getting licenses through AusCycling), CA’s ability to make money from licenses will be significantly restricted.

There’s also the issue of international licenses and UCI recognition.

“The UCI only recognises one NSO, and that’s us [Cycling Australia] at the moment,” Drake said. “There would be a question about which entity the UCI chose to recognise. But if we [Cycling Australia] were not being recognised by Sport Australia, then I think there would be a significant question … If you’ve got an entity called AusCycling that’s recognised by Sport Australia and then you’ve got another entity called CA that isn’t, I suspect that AusCycling would be the one that would be recognised by the UCI.”

Riders themselves won’t be affected — they’ll just go through AusCycling for their international licenses — but it would be another blow for Cycling Australia.

The organisation would be left without many of its staff, mired in debt, without funding from Sport Australia, likely unable to make significant money through membership sales and other revenue streams, potentially with five states gone to AusCycling, and with many clubs from other states also gone. It would surely be a matter of time before the organisation was forced to wind down.

High performance

So what of Australia’s high performance program? This division, known since late 2017 as the Australian Cycling Team, sits under the Cycling Australia banner and provides support for “Olympic and Paralympic cycling disciplines that have a higher likelihood of achieving gold medal outcomes”. So what would happen to high performance in the case of road and track not joining AusCycling?

Amid all the complexity and uncertainty, this issue seems comparatively easy to resolve. While high performance currently lives under the Cycling Australia banner, it was set up as a separate entity with its own bank accounts.

“High performance is in a separate division of Cycling Australia and you can pick it up and move it in about five minutes if you wanted to,” Drake said. “If BMX and mountain bike had approved AusCycling, there’s no reason why Sport Australia couldn’t say, ‘OK, we’re going to take away CA’s NSO status, we’re going to move high performance across to AusCycling, and we’ll just continue [funding high performance] within AusCycling which is now our recognised NSO.’

“[High performance] exists because of Sport Australia’s funding so if they want to move it and have it run by AusCycling, presumably they could. Obviously they would have to apply for recognition by the UCI and so forth but I don’t see mechanically why that can’t happen.”

Importantly, it appears that, whatever the outcome of AusCycling, Australia’s lead-in to the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics won’t be hindered.

“Sport Australia and the AIS have given a commitment that the voting result will have no negative impact on preparations for next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo,” Sport Australia told CyclingTips in a statement.

A chance of negotiation?

So what are the chances that one of CA’s three ‘no’ states becomes a ‘yes’ by way of negotiation? All of Cycling New South Wales, WestCycle and Cycling Tasmania have said they support the idea of combining disciplines; they’re just not willing to abandon a federated structure (i.e. they don’t want to see state and territory bodies shut down and their assets folded into AusCycling).

Is it feasible to develop a version of AusCycling where the state bodies remain, even as a stepping stone to a full, unitary AusCycling model? Is that something everyone could agree on?

One option can be found in Sport Australia’s so-called One Management model, which would bring everything together under one banner, with one balance sheet and one payroll for the entire organisation, but with state and territory bodies still in place.

The AusCycling Steering Committee has made it clear that it won’t consider such an option. It believes the unitary, de-federated model is the only one that works (based on findings from an EY report in the early days of the AusCycling project) and that little would change under a One Management model.

“I don’t see the point in changing to a differently broken structure,” Drake told CyclingTips. “Unfortunately, the federated model doesn’t work, at least not for [cycling]. It encourages lowest common denominator outcomes, it wastes money and time, and it’s not the way that you would set up a sport in 2019 if you had a blank sheet of paper. I understand that there are people that believe it’s the right way but we disagree.”

There’s also the issue of MTB. Unlike road/track and BMX, which have state/territory bodies, MTB Australia doesn’t. A move to a One Management model would require MTB to create state/territory bodies, something the organisation has no interest in doing.

“Again, nobody has explained how this works for mountain bike — that’s not federated, that doesn’t have state organisations, and why it would make sense for them to go back into a world where [it does]?”, Drake said. “One of the advantages for mountain bike of the AusCycling proposal is that it gets local offices and can provide local services to its members. But if you’re talking about going into a federated model where you don’t even have direct management over your staff in your local offices, why would they do that?”

Given the ‘no’ states seem unwilling to accept the unitary proposal, and given AusCycling is unwilling to accept anything else, it would seem that little is going to change.

What will Sport Australia do?

One of the biggest wild cards in this whole situation is Sport Australia. It is contributing a considerable amount of money to the endeavour and it will likely have the final say in what happens.

CyclingTips reached out to Sport Australia to arrange an interview to discuss what the future might hold for AusCycling. A spokesperson provided a written statement in reply.
“We are closely following the voting process, but we won’t speculate on the outcome,” the statement read. “Once voting is complete, we will consult with the AusCycling Steering Committee and the National Sporting Organisations to determine the next steps.”

Could AusCycling be scrapped?

The AusCycling project began at the behest of MTB Australia, BMX Australia and Cycling Australia. The NSOs approached Sport Australia with a joint desire to amalgamate and Sport Australia threw its support behind the idea. Should the three organisations not all vote to come together as planned, how will Sport Australia regard the project then?

It seems highly unlikely that Sport Australia will walk back its commitment to the project now, but a line in Sport Australia’s statement to CyclingTips suggests it’s at least possible: “We believe that the greatest consequence of not forming AusCycling will be the lost opportunities for the sport.”

So what happens if, somehow, AusCycling doesn’t happen at all?

Well, cycling in Australia would continue to be run by 19 separate organisations, with all of the inefficiencies and inconsistencies that hamper the current system. MTB Australia and BMX Australia have perhaps the most to lose from this situation — they would go from the possibility of having an equal standing with road and track under AusCycling (and having voted for such an outcome), to disciplines that are again overshadowed by road and track.

Again, it seems unlikely that AusCycling will be scrapped at this late stage. But you just never know.

The most likely outcome

Those on the AusCycling Steering Committee remain hopeful that the project will go ahead with MTB, BMX and road/track involved. That seems to be increasingly unlikely, but Cycling NSW’s special general meeting on December 10 does offer a small glimmer of hope. Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the “no” vote is overturned and Cycling Australia ends up with six states supporting AusCycling — enough for road and track to move over as a whole.

In reality though, the most likely scenario seems to look something like this:

1. MTB Australia and BMX Australia each get enough constituent support to vote in favour of AusCycling.
2. Cycling Australia fails to get enough votes to support AusCycling.
3. AusCycling goes ahead with MTB and BMX.
4. A host of road/track states and clubs move over to AusCycling on their own.
5. Cycling Australia is eventually forced to wind down.
6. ???

As noted earlier, there are few certainties to be found in the AusCycling saga and the whole system contains a great many moving parts. When it comes to the future, a lot of questions remain unanswered, even for those deeply invested in the project. And even if things do unfold as predicted above, what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Watch this space.

What happens if BMX also doesn’t join?

As mentioned above, it’s now looking like BMX and road/track won’t join AusCycling. So what would that mean for the project? As noted, it’s still possible (albeit seemingly unlikely) that Sport Australia will pull its support for AusCycling entirely. Perhaps more likely is that the project goes ahead with MTB the only full discipline to join, but with some or all of the ‘yes’ states and clubs from road/track and BMX joining of their own accord.

It’s worth reiterating that there’s still time for any state or territory to change their vote — BMX and road/track don’t vote at a national level until December.

What happens if MTB votes no?

It seems unlikely, but prior to BMX NSW’s announcement, BMX’s ‘no’ vote seemed very unlikely as well. MTB Australia puts AusCycling to a vote this weekend and if it doesn’t get 75% of members in support, that would surely spell the end of AusCycling. It would leave all three national bodies voting ‘no’ to a proposal they initiated. Again, that’s assuming that every state body votes as it says it will and that there are no changes of heart.

Follow the link for an up-to-date breakdown of the AusCycling vote.

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