LETTERS: Cycle sport must get with the times, says Elliott

After the outcry regarding the new British Cycling Youth Policy, Cycle Speedway Commission chairman, Graham Elliott, has written to all involved in Cycle Speedway.

These are my personal views and not necessarily those of either British Cycling or the Cycle Speedway Commission. I offer them solely for the purpose of contributing to the debate on this subject.

The board of British Cycling have carried out an extremely professional and wide ranging review, which I have been party to off and on, and ALL contributions were taken into account and were given very thorough consideration, including those from Cycle Speedway. As is often the case with these things the driving forces are Sport England and UK Sport, and BC are required to look at these matters very thoroughly as part of our funding conditions. The fact that the kind of views being expressed here do not hold sway is simply due to the fact that they are very much in a very small minority.

What actually comes out of it is a very different picture than the popular opinion voiced amongst the CS community, whereby youngsters are often being dragged along to competitive events either against their will, or against their best interests. For example, I had cause to stamp down in MTB last year where parents were entering under 12 children into a 2 hour endurance event. It was patently stupid, and had the potential to cause real harm both physically and mentally. Sadly many of the parents involved were unable to understand that and did get very aggressive about it. However, I have no concerns regarding my actions in stopping it. Of course we can all point to anecdotal “evidence” or exceptions, but really, does anyone honestly believe that Cycle Speedway is right whilst the whole of the world of sport is going in the opposite direction? What evidence is there? Growing numbers, higher retention, more demand for the sport? Sadly that is obviously not the case.

Alternatively I personally do have an extremely effective track record of implementing this newer approach to children’s sport. For example, this Sunday I have a race day with an entry of 422. Amongst those we have 60 under 9’s who will be receiving a morning of coaching, followed by a go race session. There is a waiting list of a further 17 under 9’s that we can’t accommodate due to lack of coaching staff. (We have increased our staff several times to accommodate rising demand incidentally, and we will do so again). We also have a further 25 under 12’s who will be participating in a regional level race on a short course specially prepared for that purpose. In other words 20% or potentially 24% of our entry is in that under 13 age bracket. We adopted this approach as best practice about 4 years ago, and our numbers have consistently grown ever since, so there is a verifiable and very real example that this approach is successful if applied with enthusiasm.

Our coaches also ran a come and try session at the Suffolk Show recently aimed at this age group . We had 920 youngsters avail themselves of that opportunity over 2 days and the over subscription to Sundays event is not in my view unconnected to that fact. No racing was involved and there was no negative comment made by anyone in respect of that.

Importantly, there is nothing in the proposal that prohibits competition for under 10s and under 13s, merely a suggestion that high level competition is not necessarily wise, and dragging kids long distances for that end is blatantly obviously not good for them. Thus the emphasis should be on enjoyment and local racing at that stage in their development.

Personally, I entirely get what is being said regarding “a discipline where numbers are smaller, like Cycle Speedway”. However, surely the emphasis should be on developing numbers and increasing opportunities, and not on perpetuating practices which self evidently aren’t successful, (self evident because if they were working we wouldn’t be talking about small numbers!).

Interestingly, football, which as we are seeing currently, isn’t always the most forward thinking sport, adopted precisely this way of thinking a good 10 or 15 years ago. British Cycling is if anything rather behind the times in this respect, and perhaps that may be because of concerns over negative reactions such as we are seeing here. However, that does not change the reality. As a coach, Commissaire/Referee and race promoter, pushy parent syndrome, and the drop off in participation once kids become independent of Mum and Dad are all too common features of my experience, and therefore I can only support the policy. However I respect the views expressed here and for that reason would want the caveat that it should be phased in over a period of time along with a range of other measures to take the sport forward. It’s not about less opportunity for kids, its really about more and of a better quality.

One other thing that interests me, is given the concern for kids being expressed here why is it that there are so few qualified coaches in Cycle Speedway? Surely the people dealing with children being properly trained and qualified and much more importantly CRB checked should be far more of a concern than this subject. In fact were there more who had trained properly, there would inevitably be far more questioning of the practice under discussion here.

In my time as commission chairman, it has become clear to me that the sport at large has spent a considerable amount of time and energy shoring up that which self evidently does not work, largely on the basis that “it’s always been that way” as opposed to embracing new thinking and looking to move forwards. In microcosm that’s what wrong with the game frankly. So please can I ask you to open your minds to the possibility that we ought to be considering what’s good for the kids, as opposed to what might be “good” for the short term sustainability of the unsustainable, and lets get together behind the future as opposed to constantly reinforcing the past.

Best regards

Graham Elliott