Before the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under, Australia's UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry met with selected media - including Cyclingnews - for a roundtable discussion on various issues.
Foremost of those issues raised was the latest on womens' cycling - prompted by Cycling Australia's recent decision to drop its high performance program - and where the sport is heading on the ever-present issue of doping.
Question: What do you think should be done with regards to the cuts by Cycling Australia to the womens’ high performance road program?
Tracey Gaudry: I do not have an official jurisdiction over Cycling Australia. I’m not on the board nor part of the management.
Being a former elite athlete coming through the system (I) enjoyed a very successful career and for many of my former racing colleagues our careers benefited greatly from a national high performance program. The records show there was a great height in success in women’s cycling. In the mid-90s through to the early 2000s with female cyclists ranked constantly in the top three in the world. There was a dedicated national team program that ran every year. I’m the first to pronounce the benefits of a dedicated program and in the lead up to Rio (2016 Olympics) one thing that is very important to consider, we understand, [is] that performance funding in a national sport through the sports commission is very much focused on the sports commission winning each strategy, winning gold medals at Olympic Games and the funding is very much related to that as a KPI (key performance indicator).
We can’t lose sight of what happens over the long term. All I’d say is when Amy Gillett was killed in 2005 the national team was, you know, literally ground to a halt. It’s taken a very long time to rebuild, given the halt in that national program.
Q: You have to separate yourself from your background as an elite cyclist in your role with the UCI. But how do we see the issue of you as a former cyclist?
TG: Yeah … the [women’s program] needs to stay. Given that I am the chairperson of the commission and the Amy Gillett foundation, it’s vital that this program stays. We all understand, some more than others, and respect the position Cycling Australia is in. They have done an extremely good job. This is a critical program. It’s also about equity across the board and we know that women have the ability to be the best in the world and I reckon that (Orica-)AIS is the best professional women’s cycling team and there needs to remain a professional development.
Q: What chance is there that CA will change their position on the womens’ program?
TG: I can’t talk about Cycling Australia’s funding at all. The foundation has confirmed it will hold its Amy Gillett cycling scholarship in 2015 … and that [women’s racing in the] Santos Women’s Tour will be in contention for that scholarship. We are determined to find a way that that scholarship works …
TG: From a UCI perspective, I’m not going to talk about the money at this point … but let’s look at what’s happening in women’s cycling worldwide. We have made some amazing progress in this past 12 months … with the establishment of women’s commission and what we are doing over the next 2-3 years. We are working to build a top level of cyclists establishing women races that will encompass one day races such as the current World Cup series and the high profile stage races.
A current criteria (will be asked of teams) invited to take part in those races. There are 80 UCI races for women around the world this year … more than 80. There may be a number of races at that top tier and literally dozens of UCI races around the world - [but not] similar to the continental race at the moment – where only the top teams will be able to race in those top races. Unless they are a wild card entry, there is going to be a need for a professional league and a development league.
Q: Speaking of criteria, what about the calls for a minimum salary for women professionals?
TG: I’m appalled when I look at some of the arrangements, and I’d say in some instances it’s no better off than a decade or 15 years ago. I carry that experience into the tent, carry that desire to recognise the value of the contribution of the women to cycling and the professionalism of women.
We are forming a women’s team working group. It’s not just the UCI staff deciding what they think the criteria needs to be, but drawing from owners and managers of women’s professional teams, event organisers, and directors to build the model that will establish the baseline set of criteria for any team to register as a UCI team. Minimum salary will be part of the equation, but it’s not the only part of the equation and we know that the world is waiting for that day.
Q: How long will that take?
TG: It’s not this year, it’s not going to be next year. That day needs to be in the near future and it needs to consider what I’ve said several times - what are the conditions provided to support the best women’s racing in the world and that is fundamental?
Q: Changing subjects, what is the latest on the Astana team issue? Is it still a black eye for cycling that they are still a World Tour team after their latest doping issues?
TG: We are following that as closely as we can to make sure that every situation - without hiding behind rules and regulations - we follow due process so the outcome is the outcome that we can deliver without any chance of repercussion. That case is absolutely not closed and it worries us immensely. The licence commission, should there be another anti-doping case will seriously consider removal of the licence.
Q: But a lot of people can’t understand why Astana is allowed to continue as a World Tour team.
TG: The [Cycling] Independent Reform Commission was set up very early last year. That commission is coming very close to delivering its findings. I can’t tell you those because the management committee is not privy to the body of work, nor who has been interviewed. That’s why it is independent.
Some of the findings are going to be terribly uncomfortable for all parties. If we started making discrete interventions now and changing the rules now, when we know that this is in front of us to establish the benchmark for the way forward we would actually be undermining the process. The other element is that the UCI has worked very closely with WADA to set up a UCI anti-doping tribunal which takes care of the UCI’s registered pool athletes. At the moment [for] any UCI registered athlete, should there be a potential anti-doping infraction, that case becomes the responsibility of the national federation where the athlete holds the license.
History shows for a similar set of circumstances that there has been different outcome in terms of penalties. As part of our commitment … we set up that tribunal so that should an anti-doping case come up [it] is handled by that tribunal … to ensure absolute stringent consistency in the application of the anti-doping case. The athletes have applauded that because it’s about a fair hearing.
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)