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More on the track Para-cycling situation

I mentioned that Para-cyclists are getting an even worse deal from the UCI than the women’s peloton, and I’ve been getting increasingly angry about this.

There have been no international-level para-cycling track events at all in 2013 – no World Cups, no World Champs, and there are none on the calendar for 2014 yet, either.  I can’t even imagine how frustrating this must be for riders – how do they demonstrate they’re worthy of funding to get to the 2016 Rio Paralympics, eg, if they’re lucky enough to be in a country that supports their para-cyclists?  How do they even know they’re good enough, to sacrifice so much to train to get there?  And how do they keep up their motivation, when they can’t test themselves against other riders?  I guess it must be less bad for the time triallists (but still frustrating) but what about the sprinters, whose event is about competing directly against other riders?

It is especially frustrating being British, with all our talk of the “Olympic legacy”, and our three competition-level velodromes, and Brian Cookson, head of British Cycling, standing for president of the UCI, that we haven’t stepped up and done our bit to help Para-cyclists compete.  There is an issue that some of the countries that support Para-cycling, like Canada, which hosted this year’s road Para World Championships, don’t have competition-level velodromes, so can’t host them – but what about Britain, the Netherlands, Australia?

One of the barriers that gets in the way is cost, but track has to be cheaper to host than road, because there isn’t the issue of road closures.  But there are extra costs that get in the way too – apparently, to host a World Cup, the organisers would have to pay a fee to the UCI.  How can this be ok?  Here’s the UCI mission statement:

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is cycling’s International Federation recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The UCI administers and promotes the development of the eight disciplines of cycling.

The UCI’s mission is to develop and promote cycling, in close collaboration with National Federations.

That’s very clear!  If no countries are stepping forward to host Para-cycling events, what are they doing to incentivise it?  Me, I’m one for changing the rules, and if I were in charge, I’d say that if a country wants to host a track World Cup, or the Track World Champs, they have to also run one for the Para-cyclists, too.  Ideally I’d have the events combined – one big competition.  Track World Cups & Champs sell out tickets easily, so an extra few days – and the chance to see the Paralympic superstars – would surely be popular.  But even if the UCI isn’t ready to take that kind of step, then at least cut the cost, in the interest of the sport.  And provide other incentives to countries with the infrastructure and capabilities to step forward.

One issue that has been mentioned is that events in 2013 don’t have points to help athletes qualify for the Paralympics, and if that really is stopping nations putting on events, then that’s pretty easy to change too?  It is not a hard thing to ask one of the UCI staff to email out to Federations and event organisers and ask them what’s stopping them putting on events, and what changes could be made.  It should be a big concern that a whole section of riders aren’t having opportunities to race, and this should definitely come higher in the priorities than getting UCI stickers on wheels and so one.

I believe in this because I believe in social justice, but also because I bloody love cycling – the Paralympics were one of the huge highlights of my 2012, and caused this massive uplift and buzz in the UK.  How can we treat athletes like heroes one year, and then do nothing to help them compete until four years later?  How can we expect riders to work and train and sacrifice basic things like going to the pub with mates, for our entertainment, without giving them some recognition and reward, and basic infrastructure to help them achieve the greatness we adore once every four years?

Big thanks to Jody Cundy and  Christina Kelkel for the conversations on twitter about this, and sharing their information and opinions, and to all the twitterati who made me laugh through the rage.  And of course, my massive thanks to the Para-cyclists everywhere, who work so hard and inspire and entertain me.

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