How to go about building a different kind of team structure (Part 2 of I don’t know how many)
So in the first post of this series we set about getting the lay of the funding landscape and exploring some of the bigger problems that teams face in trying to secure money and the stability that money allegedly provides them and (by extension) their riders and staff.
The reason I started there, with an overview that most people didn’t need, is because I wanted to highlight some serious but not-directly-financial issues that are impacting on the financial realities for teams (and to acknowledge that they exist for men and women, although the consequences and circumstances are more severe for women). This is important because we’re now going to stroll through some of the cultural, social and psychological issues that I think are at play and what we need to do in order to change them for the positive.
First of all I think there’s a real disconnect in the way that we mentally consider teams, particularly at the top level (World Tour) of the sport. Teams don’t exist as charities or non-profit organisations (although they may not turn an actual profit). Ostensibly we’re talking about professional sport here and as such, it’s expected that certain standards and conditions will be applied to riders, staff and the team structure in order to be deemed professional.
So it’s far less of a demand to add a condition for a minimum salary to a team than (for example) the UCI spokesperson mentioned previously may want you to believe.
So the first thought pattern that I believe needs to be addressed is the notion of what professional means in the sport of women’s cycling. This is actually probably the single most important issue right now, because it’s not something that has been adequately addressed by the UCI thus far. The sport as governed for women, requires all sorts of standards be adhered to with respect to team size, race length and the number of riders of a certain age that the team is allowed to have.
But for some reason, it doesn’t yet have a clear distinction such as exists on the men’s side between the Pro-Conti and World Tour levels. I think that’s an important oversight and realistically the first, most sensible and most practical step that we can take towards introducing a minimum wage to the sport.
But of course, we can’t just throw around the idea of requiring yet more cash from cash-strapped teams without addressing the concerns and consequences that this will bring. And that’s the second issue, one I happen to agree with Mr Vaughters on (although I think we’ll differ somewhat on the details) – sustainability.
There’s no question that a more stable sport benefits the peloton as a whole, and so it behooves us all (yes, I really did just say “behooves”) to consider then how any changes we push for can be implemented and maintained over the longer term. We’re not tinkering with an inanimate object in a vacuum, we’re trying to create change in a multi-faceted and complex sport which will have very real impacts on the lives of thousands of people. It’s not something to be done without due care and consideration.
Lastly, I want us to consider optimism as an essential element in achieving the changes so many of us believe the sport needs. It’s very easy to decry what hasn’t been done so far and to shout about how easy it is (I do that on a pretty much weekly basis), but it’s even easier for a focus on the negatives and the things lacking to lead us into believing that the situation is dire. That change will never happen and that some large, mysterious mechanism is actively trying to hold the sport back.
It’s simply not true. Change is not only achievable, it’s not only possible, it’s not only desirable. It’s inevitable. The sport will change. That’s not at question. What is under discussion is how it changes and who drives that change. So please, let’s choose to be optimistic in our outlook, let’s choose to believe the best of intentions from the many and varied interested parties, let’s choose to believe that we all do want what’s best for everyone who participates in the sport.
This is especially important when we get to the stage of involving sponsors, partners and funding bodies. There are two things that financiers fear and can smell all over any potential investment opportunity. The first is a lack of belief (as demonstrated by a pessimistic outlook) and the second is the lack of a cohesive set of objectives and a plan as to how those objectives will be achieved and measured.
So let’s think about professionalism, sustainability (stability) and optimism. As we look to instill these values in our discussions about the sport, and its future, we’ll find that we’re able to yield better results at every step.