Cycling NZ environment diminishes 'the mana of athletes' - report

Abby Wilson
Source: 1News

It paints a bleak picture of being a top athlete in New Zealand when one of our leading sporting organisations is described as “diminishing the mana of athletes”.

Olivia Podmore riding in 2019

That’s just one of the scathing remarks from a panel who spent four months investigating the environment in Cycling New Zealand following the sudden death of top sprint cyclist Olivia Podmore in August 2021, aged just 24.

Almost nothing is off limits in the 104 page report, with the centralised programme in Cambridge called “sub-optimal”, rules around speaking to the media referred to as “chilling” and CNZ and their umbrella organisation High Performance Sport New Zealand told to “seriously examine gender biases within their organisations”.

In 2018 the first Michael Heron QC led investigation into the environment at CNZ was released, part of the latest inquiry was to look at whether the recommendations were successfully implemented.

The short answer is policies were created, but little has changed.

The report almost suggests starting with a clean slate, the days of the centralised cycling programme for our top athletes in Cambridge surely numbered with reconsideration recommended.

READ MORE: Podmore report: Family hope Olivia's death won’t be in vain

The report finds it has created more problems than it has solved with the impacts on athlete wellbeing “concerning” in the way it removes athletes from their support network and puts them in a pressure cooker environment that is “generally male-dominated, pākehā-centric”.

In a media conference following the release of the report, Cycling New Zealand chair Phil Holden said it was "a difficult document to read" and "a challenge for us to do better".

He said traumatic events between 2016 and 2018, from which Podmore was majorly affected, "shocked" the organisation.

"To the Podmore families I am sorry," Holden said.

"I am sorry for that experience, we should've done better. We didn't and I'm sorry for your hurt and your grief."

Following Podmore’s death there were questions about how well women and their health issues in particular were dealt with in the high performance environment.

HPSNZ says female health care is unrelated to performance needs and should be dealt with by GPs but that’s disputed by the panel and their report.

They believe it is a performance issue and the lack of an effective, holistic system is harmful, “it puts women in jeopardy and risks unlawful discrimination.”

The athlete agreements signed between cyclists and CNZ have also been put under the microscope as needing “serious attention to address the imbalance and unfairness”.

Athletes operate as contractors, rather than employees, which means they’re not given basic protections like minimum wage.

“Although the athlete agreement requires athletes to always act in good faith towards CNZ and its stakeholders, there is no corresponding duty on CNZ. Such a discrepancy is unprincipled and diminishes the mana of athletes”.

Where to get help.

A new funding model was introduced in January 2022 but even that doesn’t escape criticism and is already under review by HPSNZ.

The report says the system relies on athletes finding alternative sources of funding which makes sport “exclusive” and “inequitable” furthering the assumption that HP sport is the preserve of the middle to upper classes.

On Friday, before the public release of the report, Podmore's family told 1News they hope it will see changes made within the organisations so her death won't be in vain.