When it come to equality in the sport of cycling, it’s no wonder our provincial sport organization is in the dark ages when Cycling Canada can’t seem to get its act together and consistently apply its own rules for national championships.
This past weekend Alberta had the honour of once again hosting Mountain Bike Nationals. The course was challenging, the races were grueling, and the podiums were well earned. It was great to see jerseys awarded equally to men and women in all categories; however, this is where our problems lay. Our national rules state that in order for a Nationals Championship jersey to be awarded the category must have at least five (5) starters representing at least three (3) provinces. This all seems pretty straight forward: if a race doesn’t meet these simple parameters the winning individual has won nationals in their category, but does not get to wear the national championship jersey in races for the next year. Though it’s a bit disappointing to not get to take home your countries colours, the title of National Champion is meant to be one of meaning showing hard work and effort, not a title of participation and completion. I think we can all agree that is fair.
The problem now becomes that Cycling Canada seems incapable of consistently applying this rule. This last weekend mountain bike nationals awarded National Championship jerseys and titles to athletes whose races did not meet these parameters (similar situations have happened on the track, this particular event is simply top of mind). The last two years the women’s tandem para category races did meet these parameters and athletes were not awarded the national title. In 2017 the field accepted this when given the reason that one of the participants failed to start both the Time Trial and the Road Race (due to a crash leading into the race) which therefore made the field not meet the minimum requirements of five participants. Even though they were listed on the start list as DNS. This past June, the women’s tandem TT had five starters (two of whom represented the nation in Rio) from four provinces and it was decided that the results would be factored against the men’s field -who for the first time since I have been involved with para cycling had fewer men than women with four starters from two provinces- and a single podium would be awarded.
For those of you not familiar with what “factoring” is, this is a method of comparing two separate categories in timed events by looking at how members of the categories stacked up to the current time standard. Time standards within a category are determined based on winning time at World Cup and Olympic Games of the previous year, these standards cannot go down if times were slow, they can only go up when new records are set. Current standards for tandem time trial for men is 48.99km/hr and for women is 43.45km/hr. This is not uncommon for podiums to be combined but Cycling Canada rules state that categories with five starters representing three provinces will be awarded the title of National Champion. This year, the female tandems were told we would not be awarded a championship title; our podium was going to be factored with the men as their category was too small to award a championship title, which also meant that because of factoring, there would be no women on the National podium for para tandems at all -which in itself is a violation of the factoring rule based on our interpretation of a fairly unclear rule.
This we did not accept and in fact, most of our male counterparts agreed that it was a load of garbage. We asked our national coaches (next gen east, west and elite) to protest the technical delegate and organizer on our behalf. And that’s when they refused, stating they were coaches and not officials and didn’t know that rule. When the rules were cited to them they doubled down and still said no, stating it’s not up to them to decide. In fact the only coach willing to get involved was one at the provincial level, which was a small victory because protests at the national level are heard from coaches, not athletes.
In the end, the women were awarded an event podium, but not a national podium. The results submitted to the UCI were those of the factored podium, which not only means that even though it was the first time in years female tandems completely fulfilled the parameters for a national title, they would not be awarded one, AND all females would be awarded far fewer UCI points, which meant fewer female qualifiers for Worlds and World Cup.
For some context on para tandem races, in 2017 both male and female fields had only four contestants representing three provinces take to the start line; podiums were not combined and no national jersey was awarded that year. In 2016, the men’s field had five starters from two provinces and the women’s field had four from two provinces (with a combined total of three provinces represented), and the fields were not combined; men were awarded a title and jersey and the women were not as they did not meet the parameters of five starters. In 2015, both fields met the parameters and jerseys were awarded in both categories.
Maybe this was all a giant over site. We were certainly willing to give the benefit of the doubt knowing that race formats are submitted in advance and the cited technical delegate for para had recently left the organization and there is a bit of a knowledge gap to be filled. However, seeing less than two months later that other categories not meeting the parameters are being awarded makes me truly wonder what they hell is going on here. If you can’t consistently apply a rule with two simple parameters, how exactly do you develop and support athletes. The answer: you don’t, and you’re not.
So I ask you, are rules without consistent application really rules anymore? And, if yes, where do we draw the line on leniency for these rules? It’s no wonder Canadian provincial sport organizations have vastly different applications on rules and funding when the national body can’t get themselves together on the application of a very simple, very straight forward rule, which they themselves created, and which also have a huge impact on how athletes progress on the international stage.