Cycling Ireland calls for rethink on rider funding

Sam Bennett, the 2008 European Junior Points Race Champion, is one of Ireland's rising talents.

Sam Bennett, the 2008 European Junior Points Race Champion, is one of Ireland's rising talents. (Image credit: Stephen McMahon)

Stating that the push to take medals in the London 2012 Games is an uphill struggle due to "a lack of training facilities, limited financial resources and the carding scheme which funds its high performance athletes", Cycling Ireland wants state funding to be both preserved and also redirected towards the riders who most need it.

The Irish governing body launched its ‘High Performance Strategy 2009 – 2012’ on Wednesday, and pointed out that it worked on a shoestring compared to other countries.

“Our annual budget is €500,000,” said Dr. Phil Leigh, Cycling Ireland’s High Performance Director. “Compare that to British Cycling who had a staff of 250 and a budget of over €22 million for its target of 6 medals at the Beijing Games.

“We are responding to that reality together with the Irish Sports Council, who have been tremendously supportive of our efforts to develop cycling and to prepare for the Olympic Games even though its own annual budget has been reduced to €53 million,” he said.

“We know that we can produce winners and our High Performance Strategy is about being creative in using all of our resources to meet the high costs of having to travel abroad to train and compete at elite level.”

Leigh wants to see the carding scheme reformed and the funds currently going towards ProTour riders redirected towards those who are more dependant on grand aid. He also wants to see funding going to squads of riders in each discipline, rather than specific individuals. There will be an emphasis on using these funds to enable these riders to head abroad to train and race.

“This strategy is about identifying, nurturing and developing talent from grass roots level through to high performance and Olympic level. It is structured so that young, aspiring cyclists can see a pathway for development and see what is achievable,” he said. “It includes building and leading a strong support team behind the athletes.

“There is no question that the talent exists in Ireland. Our track pursuit team was fifth in the Copenhagen World Cup in February while Sam Bennett was the 2008 European Junior Points Track Champion. We won medals at the Paralympic Track World Cup in Manchester this May pushing Great Britain very close, and were within five seconds of a medal in the women’s time trial at the 2009 Para Cycling World Championships in Italy. We are competing with the best but there are enormous costs associated with travelling to qualifying World Cup track events in Manchester, Columbia, Beijing and Melbourne,” he said.

Track racing will be emphasised, but other disciplines will also be catered for.

Leigh also stressed the importance of the government continuing to provide financial backing to the various sporting organisations. The weak economy in Ireland has seen widespread cuts in government funding in all elements of society. He doesn’t want such cutbacks to jeopardise Ireland’s sporting prospects, particularly with the next Olympics less than three years away.

“This is about laying the foundations for success. Anything is possible,” he said. “But it goes without saying that the delivery of this strategy through to London 2012 is dependant on continued funding and support from the Irish Sports Council, Sport Northern Ireland, the Paralympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Olympic Council.

“Our ability to achieve success internationally runs in close parallel with our ability to maintain our financial resources at a time when sport in Ireland is living under the constant threat of being a soft target for cuts in Government spending.”

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