Do sportives need regulating?

The UK market for sportive riders is bigger and more competitive than ever, with over 400 events taking place in 2011. As big events open their entries for 2012, many are selling out within days.

But while the majority of sportives provide positive experiences, a few recent exceptions have prompted calls to ensure safety criteria and rider expectations are met.

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As it stands, organisations can run sportives with no previous experience of managing cycling events. This can result in the odd inexperienced or even rogue organiser – attracted by the large turnover such events can generate – putting on events that fall short on certain standards.

Serious problems in the form of poorly enforced road closures, understocked feed stations or badly-signed courses could present a danger to rider safety. With some one-day events now costing in excess of £50, ensuring that participants get value for money is also a concern.

Is there a need for an umbrella organisation to oversee and regulate the running of sportive events? Such an organisation could work in many ways, but a basic role might be to simply advise organisers. A more regulatory role could see it responsible for enforcing a set of standards for events.

Andy Cook, president of the UCI’s Commission for Cycling for All and an organiser of sportives, identifies a possible need for a regulatory body.

“There is no checklist for non-competitive events like there is in racing, and also a risk that good information doesn’t get transferred,” he told CW. “The amount of competition is unnerving; the market is tense and companies can lose focus on [the running of] their own events.”

Events run with British Cycling’s insurance are governed by regulations that state that the entrants are responsible for their bike and taking the correct route, and advise them to be aware of ‘reasonable expectations’ for an event and to bring sufficient personal provisions for any ride. Organisers are required to provide adequate toilet facilities, refreshments every 40 miles and a risk assessment form to be forwarded to local police.

But even if boxes are ticked, there is no guarantee that such promises will be delivered. This was the case for the problematic Etape Cymru, which advertised itself as being run under BC regulations, but seemed to suffer as a result of subcontracting certain services out to companies lacking relevant experience.

Currently there is no obligation for a sportive to be run under anyone’s guidelines. Organisers could sign up under an umbrella organisation that then becomes a stamp of quality, although groups that put on simple, smaller events could see such rules as unnecessary.

“We need to manage expectations,” said Cook. “It is just a bike ride, but there is space for cooperation to ensure that there isn’t any harm done to other events.”

Pros of regulation
Set standards to improve rider safety and satisfaction
Identifies the better-run events and organisers
Avoids encountering problems caused by inexperience
Would help coordinate the calendar 

Cons of regulation
Who would be theregulators? BC? CTC? An association of organisers?
How would various interests be managed?
More cost and bureaucracy
Over-regulation could hinder new, low key or innovative events