Trouble behind scenes for Bike New Zealand

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 19/05/2013

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There are mounting concerns over New Zealand's second-highest funded sports organisation and prime Olympic investment, Bike New Zealand.

Sunday Star-Times inquiries have found significant dissatisfaction in the cycling community at BikeNZ's performance, from the grassroots to Olympic level.

Concerns range from complaints over basic administration problems, including five-month delays in issuing the mandatory licences riders need to race competitively, to fundamental governance questions aimed at the board and the overall financial health of the taxpayer-funded entity.

Fuelling unease over the sport's direction, both chief executive Kieran Turner and successful Olympic sprint coach Justin Grace have suddenly resigned.

Turner's resignation was confirmed over a month ago and BikeNZ is yet to advertise one of the most important jobs in the organisation, and in New Zealand sport.

Interest at today's annual meeting in Auckland will centre on BikeNZ's accounts and financial decisions over the past 12 months - particularly after it lost a lucrative sponsorship deal five months ago which it is still yet to replace.

BikeNZ is also in the middle of relocating Auckland and Wellington outposts to one office in Cambridge - bolted on to a new velodrome facility which is understood to be facing a seven-figure shortfall.

Over the last Olympic cycle, BikeNZ received a total of $18,331,699 in public money for its high-performance programmes. Only rowing received more ($19.1m between 2009 and 2012).

Across BMX, mountain-biking, road and track cycling, BikeNZ had 23 athletes at last year's London Games, returning with one silver and two bronze medals.

Both BikeNZ and Rowing NZ are also key elements in the Crown's secretive research and development project "GoldMine" - of which very little is known.

The Crown has provisionally granted BikeNZ a slight increase in its core elite funding over the next Olympic cycle to the 2016 Games in Rio. However, some stakeholders are concerned at the way funding is being spread across high-performance teams, particularly where females and juniors are concerned.

In an interview with the Sunday Star-Times yesterday BikeNZ chairman Richard Leggat, declined comment on how high-performance funding was shared among female and junior riders.

But Leggat did admit his organisation faces a "funding challenge", acknowledging that BikeNZ has been operating without a primary commercial backer since December after Rabobank let its four-year deal expire.

According to BikeNZ documents, the sponsorship was worth $512,916 in 2012 and $476,555 in 2011.

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Peter McCarthy, a former selector for BikeNZ's junior road and track racing division, told the Star-Times that he and others have concerns at the sport's governance.

McCarthy, who worked voluntarily for BikeNZ for three years, resigned five months ago, saying a senior member of BikeNZ staff began trying to influence his selection decisions.

"I received instructions about who I should and shouldn't select," McCarthy told the Star-Times. "I was just overruled and told that now the control was with BikeNZ on the selection of individuals."

Leggat declined comment on the claim.

McCarthy also says some within the cycling community are concerned at what they see as a lack of institutional knowledge on the board of BikeNZ.

The organisation's website reveals only one of seven current board members has a competitive background in the sport. BikeNZ is currently advertising a vacancy for an independent board position.

Leggat declined comment on a range of complaints about general administration issues, including: Claims BikeNZ failed to organise enough medals at a recent national championships and had to order athletes to hand back prizes after leaving the podium; a number of complaints about it taking up to five months for riders to receive racing licences; and complaints over phone calls to BikeNZ regularly going unanswered.

He also would not comment on the size of the shortfall on the Cambridge velodrome project.

Leggat said BikeNZ planned to appoint an interim CEO "very soon".

Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Gordon McCauley, now one of New Zealand's top coaches, is one of a number of cycling identities publicly criticising BikeNZ.

In a public post on social media earlier this month, McCauley wrote: "WTF is going on at BikeNZ? Kerian [sic] Turner resigned, Justin Grace resigned, no womans [sic] program at all . . . what else have I missed?"

Former BikeNZ employee Simon Gwynn, who now works for Cycling Victoria, replied: "I resigned!!!!"

Olympian Stephen Cox, who represented New Zealand at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, also responded to McCauley's questioning of the national body.

"There is change needed in many areas," Cox wrote.

- Sunday Star Times

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