The Royal Belgian Cycling Federation (RLVB) have joined calls urging the International Cycling Union (UCI) to reconsider a proposal that would see the individual pursuit, points race and Madison removed from the Olympic track program.
The UCI announced in September its plans to create equality in the number of medals awarded men and women track cyclists at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The UCI and International Olympic Committee are expected to make an announcement on the make-up of the track programme for the London Games next month.
A letter sent from RLVB President Laurent De Backer to UCI President Pat McQuaid this week outlines the Belgian Federation's objections to the proposed changes to the Olympic program, as well as their concerns over the consultation process that has led up to it. The Belgian's appeal follows on from a large cross section of the cycling community who have expressed concern over the proposed changes.
The RLVB's Director of Sports Jos Smets told Cyclingnews that while the Belgian Federation does not object to gender equality of medals, it is concerned about the sudden upheaval to the Olympic schedule.
"We absolutely understand that the IOC might want gender equality and we are certainly not against it. But, as we continue to argue, it should be done in phases," said Smets today.
"It's not appropriate, three years before the games, to simply cancel events. I've spoken to a lot of riders, coaches and federations at the World Cup rounds this year. They've been working towards the Olympics for a lot longer than three years. I'm talking about a rider like Taylor Phinney from the USA for example; this is not just about Belgian riders.
"I think the IOC realise that athletes train for longer than two or three years for the Olympics."
Although it is yet to be formally announced, it is widely believed that the Omnium will be introduced as a replacement for the individual pursuit, points race and Madison. The RLVB argues that the change will reduce opportunity for smaller nations to achieve Olympic representation; a change it says could sound the death knell for smaller track nations.
"I've spoken to the Argentineans [Argentina won gold in the Madison at the Beijing Olympics – ed.]. The Olympics will be in South America in 2016 and they now face the possibility that they will not even be there," said Smets. "We know it could affect our medal chances, too, but we are more concerned with the future of track cycling.
"I don't know how I can motivate our athletes if international sporting federations have the power to take their events away from the games. We're already developing athletes for 2016 and 2020, how can we motivate these riders if the same thing [as is happening now] happens in 2014?"
Also of major concern to the RLVB is the process that had led up to the current UCI proposal. Smets cited the removal of the men's and women's time trials from the Olympic track program after Athens in 2004 as an example of due process, which the RLVB feels has been ignored this time around.
"When the kilo was taken away, that was an example of how it should be done," he said. "All of the federations were informed of the proposals and given the ability to make their own recommendations about which events should be taken out of the program."
In contrast, Smets said that the national federations had been given no warning of the latest proposals, despite two meetings with the UCI this year. "We had a good meeting at the World Championships in Poland in March, with a lot of countries represented. There were some good proposals put forward, but we weren't told about the changes to the Olympic program," he said.
"It took a long time, until August, for the notes from that meeting to come out. There had been some discussion of increasing the number of female athletes, but it was a surprise at a subsequent meeting – at the Junior Worlds in Moscow – to be told of the Olympic changes.
"I've spoken to members of the UCI Track Commission, [Belgium's Patrick] Sercu and [Peder] Pedersen from Denmark, and they say they were never consulted about the changes either."
In addition to the letter sent to the UCI the RLVB has also issued their own proposal to achieve gender equality of medals. They have made two proposals based on the removal of events after the London Olympics and in time for the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016.
The first would see the men's team sprint removed in order to make room for a women's keirin with the number of medals distributed in a 6/4 split between men and women, respectively.
The second would see the removal of the men's team sprint and the Madison in order for the introduction of both a women's keirin and a women's team pursuit. In this case, the 5/5 medal split between men and women would be achieved.
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