FEATURE: Moving forward

There was some emotive language used by the commission chairman, Graham Elliott, in his letter to clubs yesterday. He referred to metaphorical grenades and indicating his passion and love for the sport. There are reassuring moments in his letter and his desire to promote a positive outcome is welcomed. However, one thing his letter doesn’t address is the reasons why many in the sport are unhappy with British Cycling’s role at present. Here we look at some issues with Cycle Speedway’s relationship with British Cycling, ahead of the Club Conference on Sunday, which is just one of the main talking points that will no doubt be brought to the fore.

Back in March 2014 at the commission meeting, a 3 year KPI (key performance indicator) was implemented by British Cycling for 2014 through to 2016. This involved funding for the indoor to be cut completely for 2016 and for riders to hold a full racing licence to race in any national competitions for the same year.

To obtain a racing licence, a rider must have a minimum of a silver BC membership. Currently for 2015, a bronze membership priced at £21 is valid and has been since British Cycling took over the running of Cycle Speedway. Silver licenses cost £41 for seniors, £27 for juniors (U18) and is free for under 12s. Then, to obtain the racing licence it’s £36 for seniors, £16 for juniors and free for under 12s. For a senior rider to enter a national event, it means they will have to fork out £77 just to be eligible to ride, then there’s the £21 on top of that for entry fee. So for any rider wishing to enter the national finals they will have to part with £98.

With entries in 2014 at a record low (some citing the increased entry fee increase as an issue), with those sorts of figures, entries will only decline further. The days of the outsider entering for the experience and hoping for that little bit of lady luck to shine on them will be long gone. People won’t part with that sort of money if they don’t believe they will make the final 16. Some who could make the final 16 may not be able to afford it, both scenarios will be to the detriment of the competition and the sport.

Yet, in light of this, the one real bit of funding the sport gets back through the indoor championships is being cut. It simply doesn’t offer any sort of justification or value for money to riders, spectators or clubs. This year clubs have collectively forked out between £2,000 and £3,000 per league in race levies and the bronze membership took a way above inflation rise to £20 for 2014.

The British Cycling website has had four news articles added to it all year and the newsletter page no longer exists. Save a well written in-depth report on the nationals by Andy Whitehouse, the other three stories have been regarding the elite league and only a few paragraphs long. The sport has little presence on the British Cycling website and it deserves more than that.

Errol Thaw pictured winning the title for Horspath, despite not racing

Errol Thaw pictured winning the title for Horspath, despite not racing

A British World Champion in Lauren Davies was crowned nearly a year ago, but there has been no mention of her or her achievements in Australia. The recent story of Olympian Craig MacLean signing and racing for Edinburgh Falcons should have made some headlines, like it did in Edinburgh’s main newspaper, but it didn’t make headway with the British Cycling news team. A little bit of coverage on the home page of the British Cycling website would go a long way. Instead, we’re tucked away in a corner where it looks like nothing is happening.

But things are happening. 33/18 News is close to having published 1,000 news stories since April 2014. We’ve had over 250,000 page views since then and get up to 400-700 visitors per day. The image of the sport is improving, there are still youngsters all over the country flooding club nights and the British Youth and Junior League has proven strong once again in 2014.

British Cycling is a huge national body with a big membership of passionate cyclists. Cycle Speedway is one of the most accessible grass-roots sports around. It gets kids out of the house and on their bike instead of sitting in front of a TV screen watching tele or playing computer games. It encourages community spirit, keeps people fit and healthy and forms friendships that last for a lifetime. Most importantly, Cycle Speedway gets people on bikes – which is part of British Cycling’s mandate to do. Some realise they can go pretty fast on a bike and thrive in our sport. Surely this would be a perfect development ground for sprint cyclists. Olympic champions could be made from our clubs, if only the light would be shone in their direction.

Few would begrudge paying the increasing costs of Cycle Speedway, if the sport got more back. A popular feeling around the tracks is that British Cycling don’t care for Cycle Speedway and sometimes you can’t blame them for holding this view. Just imagine what could be achieved with a little bit of promotion (that costs nothing via their website) and what that could do for the sport. Graham Elliott mentions a lack of leadership being our biggest problem, well we say go ahead and lead us by all means, but only if it takes us forward. We urge British Cycling to promote the sport and keep our area of your website updated. Put the sport’s bigger stories as features on your home page once in a while. Include us in emails to your thousands of members. Champion our grass-roots nature and acknowledge that a career in cycling could start racing around on shale in circles! Aside from keeping the spiralling cost of competing in Cycle Speedway down in line with our grass-roots self-sufficient running, these are a few things which would go a long way in easing the tension between large pockets of the sport and its current governing body. Even a picture of Cycle Speedway in the entrance of British Cycling’s HQ wouldn’t go amiss. It doesn’t have to be showing off our champions, why not a decent picture from the British Youth and Junior League, showing our wonderful youthful participation?

If not, you can’t blame people for looking elsewhere. If you can get a similar service for a much cheaper price, any sound businessman or consumer would choose it, especially when tens of thousands of pounds are going down a one way street. Other options may not have the clout that British Cycling does, but if British Cycling won’t bang the Cycle Speedway drum, what is there to lose? The sport was self-sustaining before British Cycling, it could easily be without again, as regrettable as that would be for both sides. The fact remains that British Cycling putting Cycle Speedway out there and endorsing our sport nationally, would easily be the top trump in this situation. However, whether this is possible with the indoor funding loss and increased membership/license fees remains to be seen. British Cycling would need to be seen to giving something of monetary value back to the sport, including bringing back printed champions white shirts that don’t look like they’ve been pulled off the shelf at JD Sports, would be a decent place to start.

The purpose of this article is certainly not to be a “metaphorical grenade” or to point fingers. It serves only to highlight legitimate reasons behind the unrest, if these reasons aren’t addressed, then what hope will there be? Cycle Speedway has huge potential and now is the time to turn it all around. If British Cycling get on board with that, then that’s truly great news for everyone involved. Graham Elliott could still have a big role to play between the relationship with Cycle Speedway and British Cycling. There are those in the sport believe he has the best interests of Cycle Speedway at heart and working within the constraints of his role, does support the sport in front of those high up in British Cycling. We certainly support Graham in his quest to take Cycle Speedway forwards.

This all said, there is plenty for club officials to consider when they meet this Sunday in Willenhall that are outside of this issue. First and foremost, the purpose of the meeting is to halt the decline of Cycle Speedway. That needs to come from within and anybody who believes changing the governing body will fix everything, would be left disappointed. If anything, working together moving forward, where all sides acknowledge some of these issues highlighted, could be the best case scenario. Most importantly, Sunday is about finding positive ways to reverse the decline. This point especially should not be forgotten by those attending the conference, which was what Graham Elliott correctly alluded to in his letter. A positive discussion and outcome is what is required more than anything else.

What do you think of any of the issues highlighted in our article? Have your say: 3318news@gmail.com.