Happy new year everyone.
Over the last few days you may have caught me on the TV or on the Radio in relation to the last-minute announcement of a World Championships in LA from the 2nd-5th of March.
I thought I’d put down my thoughts on “paper” to make sure nothing is missed and that with editing my comments don’t get taken out of context.
Firstly, the positives, because at the end of the day I can’t be down beat all the time, I’ll be getting a reputation that I’m always moaning about Para-Cycling and the UCI.
It’s great that US Olympic/Paralympic Cycling have decided to organise a World Championships, to tie these in with the logistics of the able-bodied World Cup which takes place the week before is clever and should help keep costs and overheads down.
Also by establishing a Worlds in 2017 it sets a precedent that the UCI are keen to make sure that this is a yearly event in the first quarter of the year. This is great news for the numerous track cycling specific riders that are involved in Para-Cycling, it gives us a yearly goal and an important stepping stone to the Paralympics every 4 years. As an athlete that has been vocal about lack of events it’s great to see the commitment to put on an annual World Championships, this in my opinion, will help our sport grow and is the basis of developing a Para Track Cycling season, which doesn’t exist no matter what you may read in press releases.
Well that’s the positives, but below is a list of things about these world championships that I don’t understand and what has got me to the point of being vocal and making a stand and to stick up for the Para-Cycling athletes.
First up, 7 weeks or 52 days of official notice (and I’m not talking about rumours, but actual published dates) of a World Championships is downright crazy. If Track Para-Cycling had an actual season of qualifying and World Cup events like our able-bodied counterparts, and athletes were regularly competing week in week out on track, then the idea of an additional competition in 7 weeks would be more than welcome, especially as it would be for the prestige of winning a rainbow jersey.
However, that is not the reality, in fact our Para-Cycling track season (not counting national championships) this year is literally 4 days long and starts on the first day of competition in LA on March the 2nd ending on the 5th due to no other events on the schedule. This is an area the UCI needs to work on when it comes to Track Para-Cycling as there are no regular events to compete at that we could effectively class as a season. Every year is an unknown, and some years we might get lucky and have 2 maybe even 3 events a season and others we may have zero. This is one of the major reasons a lot of nations and riders focus on the road and not the track, because they know that they’ll be C1 events, World Cups and World Championships, with regular events throughout the year. Because there is no “track season” then the only investment in track training and racing is when competitions count towards the next Paralympic games points qualification system, and all of a sudden it’s of interest to take part in track.
7 Weeks isn’t long enough for any athlete to focus their training and target being in prime condition to take on a World Title.
Additionally, in a Post Paralympic year many athletes take extended breaks due to no planned world championships, so athletes are hastily returning back for panic training so they don’t’ look like complete amateurs in LA, but quite a few are simply declining the opportunity to race as they won’t be ready to compete.
Within British Cycling team we are fortunate that due to Lottery Funding we can train full time and don’t have the commitment of a full/part time job, but this isn’t the same for other nations with many riders having work commitments that they may be unable to leave at such short notice to compete in 7 weeks time. We also have the advantage of being a track based program so gaining access to the velodrome is far simpler and I am grateful for that.
If we take the athletes out of the equation, 7 weeks is still a crazy amount of time for federations to get everything in place for a world championships. There are the logistics to start with, so that’s flights, transfers, hotels, equipment freight, training times, VISA’s, entries, and that’s just off the top of my head.
Then you have the actual costs to the nations, with the event being so late in the day to be confirmed, a lot of nations will have already committed money to other races/training in the 4-year cycle to Tokyo or have spent all of their money on the Rio cycle and haven’t received the next Paralympic budget. This is important because originally there was no plan for a 2017 track Worlds, with 2018 looking like the next opportunity for a Track Worlds. So now money is having to be reassigned, or for some countries the harsh fact is that there is no money, especially when you consider that for many nations this is a Long-Haul event meaning it’s likely to cost more than an event in Europe.
None of the above makes sense to me, but this is the situation we’re in after the last-minute confirmation on LA 2017.
I must question why these championships were cleared by the UCI, and why the rush to have them in the 1st Quarter of 2017. Surely they could have been scheduled for the last quarter of 2017 therefore still holding them in the year following a Paralympics? We didn’t’ have a Worlds in 2013 post London 2012, our first Worlds wasn’t until the last-minute addition of the 2014 World in Mexico.
The only positive I can draw from this is the commitment for regular track World Championships within the Para-Cycling calendar, but the way in which this has been facilitated is certainly not in the athlete’s or national federations best interests.
So, who benefits from these championships taking place, I can only hypothesize but with LA is currently bidding for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics, and they need to be seen to supporting Para Sport ahead of their IOC evaluation which take place in April 2017. As in recent games their coverage of the Paralympics has been woefully inadequate in comparison to their Olympic coverage, and in comparison, to other nations with Great Britain leading the way on that front. I’m guessing the bid process includes money to put on events in LA and they’ve used that money to put on an event, and the UCI pockets a substantial hosting fee (a fee so substantial it’s the stumbling block for more nations putting on a track world championships).
Also in 2017 it is re-election time for the UCI president, and putting on these championships would certainly tick a box next to Para-Cycling and it shows a commitment to future events, and growth of this side of the sport.
However, both scenarios look good on paper, the reality as I sit here typing is that this event has the potential to look disastrous, with minimal fields competing as whole nations decline to attend due to logistical and monetary issues. Leading athletes who won medals and set records in Rio refuse to compete due to the last-minute nature of the event.
In addition to this if the event is a failure, then this reflects very poorly on Para Track Cycling, and in a time when the IPC are looking to the sustainability of track racing for future Paralympics, a poorly attended, laughably last minute event certainly doesn’t show the sport in the same positive light as the competitions on track in London and Rio, which were both 4 day sell outs and witnessed some fantastic racing and performances.
Finally, I just wanted to answer a question I’ve been asked a few times. Why don’t I boycott these championships if I believe they are so wrong?
To be honest I have thought about this long and hard, and it comes down to this.
I’m not sure that individually boycotting the event would help, the solution to these issues are complex and need to be found by all of us, the athletes, national governing bodies and the UCi working together with potential host nations to ensure the future of the sport and opportunities for talented young Para-Cyclists of future games.
Also, I’m a racer through and through, and I couldn’t sit at home knowing I wouldn’t be on the start line to defend my world titles no matter how fit or unfit I may be. Add to this that I’m funded by UK Sport and British Cycling to be a track cyclist, I feel obligated to attend and to do my best to represent my country.
In the past I’ve slammed the UCI for not putting on track cycling events, and I feel like I’d be a huge hypocrite if, when they actually put on an event and I declined to race.
I feel like I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.
I’d love to know what you think either way.
Am I making a fuss over nothing, or is this something that as a prominent rider within Para-Cycling I should be doing for the good of the sport.
I look forward to reading your comments on my website, Twitter feed or Facebook.
Here’s to the panic training.
49 day’s to go.
Jody Cundy OBE
7 x Paralympic Gold Medalist and 12 x UCI World Champion.