Last night, Cycling NSW held its 2018 Annual General Meeting at Bansktown Sports Club. Aside from procedural matters, the AGM was marked by a robust, but respectful, discussion about several key challenges faced by bike racing in this State. Below is a brief comment on the issues, which centred around race participation and junior development. Overall, there is much reason to be hopeful about the future of cycling in New South Wales.
Incumbent directors re-elected
Glenn Vigar, Craig Chapman and James Vickers were returned to their positions on the Board of Directors.
Unfortunately for the new candidates, Alexis Kaless (Manly Warringah CC) and Rob Hacker (Penrith CC), neither of them were able to break into the Board this year.
Nevertheless, new CEO Graham Seers was welcomed to the organisation with enthusiastic applause. There was a tangible feeling that Seers, a long-serving veteran of the sport and a former elite cyclist himself, has the experience needed to reinvigorate competitive cycling in New South Wales.
How can we get more people racing?
The primary issue discussed at the AGM related to race participation: how can we reverse the decline in the number of riders attending open races in country New South Wales?
President Peter Beaumont said there were three keys to getting more people racing. First, make race entries affordable. Second, ensure the quality of the racing experience is excellent. Third, promote the events with good marketing. Beaumont said Cycling NSW must strongly consider hiring someone in a full-time marketing role.
Some members commented that marketing was only part of the problem. Cycling NSW, it was suggested, must substantively improve its relationship with the clubs through better communication and by offering tangible support. For example, it was suggested that Cycling NSW, with the cooperation of the Sydney-based clubs, should reduce the number of events on its calendar to avoid clashes and entice more Sydney-based members to visit regional events.
Hiring a dedicated marketing manager would be a good move for the organisation, which has struggled with a negative PR image over the last few years. The racing community is small but passionate, and cries out for positive engagement from its governing body. Active, regular and clear communication is a big key to success for Cycling NSW, which needs to hold itself out as a friend of cycling clubs, not their enemy.
Races v sportives
Some members noted that the drop in race participation has correlated with the rising popularity of cyclo-sportive events. These are privately-run, mass-participation rides – not races – that draw a large number of Cycling NSW away from actual races. The Bowral Classic and L’Etape Australia are prime examples.
One member pointed to the inclusive, family-oriented nature of sportives as a factor in their success. At many sportives, Little Johnny or Sally can ride a 10km mini fondo with Mum or Dad, while a trained cycling enthusiast can tackle the long course gran fondo. In contrast, bike racing has a narrower appeal: only competitive racers go, and they go to compete.
Perhaps one idea is to make country opens better events for non-racers. Let’s make the whole weekend a big deal: not just a bike race for fringe sports fans, but a festival for the entire town. Make it a celebration not just of cycling, but of the local community. Sure, tag on a fondo for the kids before the race. But let’s go another step up: host a big fair in the main street, with jumping castles, food stalls selling local produce, and fireworks. Country opens can be like a travelling carnival, with the bicycle racing the main event. For each town, make the festival the biggest thing that happens every year; where the community proudly shows itself off to the rest of the State.
Another issue discussed at the AGM was the lack of structure in junior development. For example, Randwick Botany CC attracts tens of juniors to their Saturday afternoon events, but there is no clear direction about what to actually do with the kids.
On this topic, Seers appeared to come into his domain – his current role is as Malaysia’s Director of Development for Junior Cycling. Seers suggested encouraging juniors to learn skills rather than race for victories. He suggested that clubs could run skills sessions where each child leaves with the satisfaction of having acquired a new skill. This is in contrast to simply holding races, where only the podium-getters might walk away with a tangible achievement.
Seers also suggested reviving a past practice where junior clubmates would travel together to country races, eating, sleeping and racing as a team. Bringing that environment back would encourage more juniors to stay engaged with the sport and with their clubs.
Conclusion: an appetite for growth
The encouraging message from the AGM was that there is a deep passion for the sport in New South Wales. Members care about bike racing, and they want to make it better. There is an appetite to grow the sport; to make it bigger and stronger. The evening’s discussion was full of bright ideas; the seeds of positive change. At meeting’s end, one could scarcely be blamed for leaving with a sense of hope that, under a new CEO, the collective energy of the cycling community can be harnessed to rejuvenate bike racing in New South Wales.
Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Cycling NSW.