A report into Cycling NZ and High Performance Sport NZ highlights a problematic feature of sports programmes, but CNZ says it’s not resourced to do anything else, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.
“A survey on Cambridge”
I visited athlete accommodation in Cambridge a few years ago. I hadn’t paid attention to the evolution of Cambridge as a base for high performance sports and my reference point for this kind of hot-housing of athletes was the 1984 movie about gymnast Nadia Comăneci. The accommodation seemed fine but was a far cry from the nostalgic view I had of our young medalist hopefuls training with old tires in their backyards, parents and siblings never too far away. Cambridge features throughout the Cycling NZ (CNZ) and High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) inquiry report released on Monday. The Bounce’s Dylan Cleaver clocks it in his piece published on the Spinoff, saying the report is curiously also a survey on the small town where rents are high and everyone knows everyone else.
Days of the centralised cycling programme “surely numbered”
This isn’t a swipe at a small town, but a critique of a system that removes athletes from their support systems and puts them in high-pressure environments that don’t suit everyone. 1 News sports reporter Abby Wilson writes that “the days of the centralised cycling programme for our top athletes in Cambridge are surely numbered”. Several CNZ regional development hubs were marked for closure in 2021. At the time, Sid Cummings, lead coach of the hub in Invercargill (which has just re-opened) said he wasn’t sure what the development pathway would now look like but “it needs to be about the athletes first, over results and medals”.
Lather, rinse, repeat
This inquiry was initiated after the death of cyclist Olivia Podmore. Tragically, the 2018 Heron Report into the culture at CNZ also involved Podmore, with QC Mike Heron finding the young athlete was “pressured to give a false account” to protect a coach and another athlete who were allegedly involved in an intimate relationship. Champion rower Eric Murray says the latest report validates all of Podmore’s concerns. Stuff’s Dana Johannsen does not conceal her frustration at yet another report. She asks how it is that we are still reading things like “focusing on athletes as people first” in sports reviews. Alice Soper, writing for the NZ Herald (paywalled) skewers the very nature of the review process itself.
Punching above our weight at what cost?
The report states that “the centralised model has not been the panacea that some might have hoped it would be” and that “HPSNZ has advised that it is encouraging a more regional model, but CNZ advises it does not receive funding for such an approach and cannot afford it.” Funding will always be an issue in a small country but when funding is so closely linked to performance and we’re so very attached to the idea of “punching above our weight” and our per-capita medal tables, that comes at a cost. For the friends and family of Olivia Podmore, it’s more than anyone should be asked to bear.