Five things the next CEO of British Cycling needs to tackle including image repair

There is a vacancy at the top of the sport in the UK, with the in-tray of problems building

Shell logo on Great Britain riders shoulder at Track World Championships
(Image credit: Getty)

Cycling in the UK currently feels a little rudderless, with a vacancy at the top of the sport's governing body. British Cycling is without a permanent CEO since Brian Facer stepped down three weeks ago. As a result, you have until next Friday to apply for the top job.

While it might be the dream career for some, there are quite a few issues for the next boss to work on, not limited to the ongoing fallout from the announcement of Shell as a new commercial sponsor. It has been a year of controversies for the governing body of cycling, from blocking trans riders from competing to U-turning on guidance saying that cyclists should not ride on the day of the Queen's funeral.

It is still a crucial job, however, involving shepherding the sport in the UK at a crucial time for cycling in the world, representing the tens of thousands of members, and continuing to deliver success on the world stage across multiple disciplines.

Here, then, are some of the things that the next CEO of British Cycling will have to deal with from their first day on the job. None are particularly simple.

Boost the finances

Just like so many organisations and businesses, the pandemic hit British Cycling hard

In its accounts for the year to March 31 2021 the national governing body reported its total income fell 26% from £33.5m in the 2019-2020 financial year to £24.6m last year.

The organisation saw its income from all its revenue streams decrease. The most costly was a 39% drop in sponsorship income that saw it get £3.4m less from sponsors in the year to March 31 2021. That was driven largely by a “reprofiling” of the income from principal sponsor HSBC UK due to the delay in the Tokyo Olympics and the subsequent extension of its partnership for one year.

Its deal with HSBC ended at the end of last year, and while Shell has now been brought on board as commercial partners, the organisation is still lacking a title sponsor in the vain of big bank.

Add onto this the current cost of living crisis, with energy bills skyrocketing, and some members choosing to resign over the Shell deal, it is a tricky time for the bean counting department at BC. 

As the pandemic has eased, the body can now make money from events and coaching again, but there is still a shortfall from the money it used to have. Commercial funding and memberships subscriptions need to be secured in order to put BC back on track, along with finding a bigger - and probably less controversial - sponsor than Shell to help.

Speaking of which...

Solve the image problem

British Cycling and Shell has happened, the damage has been done, but it is a bad look for the body in charge of cycling in the UK to ally themselves with the oil and gas giant.

As a result, multiple members have quit in protest, and there have been reports of clubs unable to organise races because of a lack of BC-accredited marshals because of this. It might not be the lead partner, but still, the 'official partnership' has caused problems.

In a way, the fact it is a limited partnership makes it all the more odd - why sell your soul for so little? Why open yourself to the ire of thousands of members for just a small bit of funding?

British Cycling and Shell UK are keen to point out that their partnership is in order to help with two specific projects: Limitless, which will look to break down the barriers disabled people face when accessing cycling, and BC's move towards net-zero.

British Cycling would like this partnership to be judged on these two markers, just as Shell would like to be judged on their efforts in their investments in net zero and low-carbon technologies. But this does not change the fact that this is cycling's governing body in the UK teaming up with an oil and gas giant.

It is not the only image or communications problem that BC have had. Their advice to cyclists suggesting that they do not ride on the day of the Queen's funeral was met with derision that forced it into a climbdown. 

The organisation also got themselves into hot water earlier this year after they changed their guidance on trans riders competing in elite races at the last moment, causing consternation and damage to BC's relationship with the LGBT community.

These are not insurmountable problems. Delivering on the net-zero commitment would be a start and the other fumbles can be set right but these will take some time and work.

Sort out elite racing

While British stars might still be picking up medals at the Olympics and World Championships, including Tom Pidcock's cyclocross rainbow jerseymen's team pursit glory at the track worlds, and Zoe Bäckstedt's domination of the junior titles on the road in Australia, it has been a bit more of a difficult time domestically.

Ribble Weldtite became the latest British Continental level team to go under, following the likes of SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling, Madison Genesis and JLT Condor in recent years. While British cyclists have continued to star on a global scene, their route to the top has been made more complicated by a lack of teams competing at the top in the UK. It is not just young riders, with the lack of British squads affecting all.

There have been reports of Le Col-Wahoo facing funding issues for 2023, so it isn't just a problem for the men's scene.

There is no easy fix, but a settled race calendar and a proper development plan are surely needed in order to secure the future of the sport in the UK. If the crowds at events like the Tour of Britain are anything to go by, there is an appetite, so the new CEO has to try and provide a product the fans can get behind.

Fix amateur racing

Participation in regional bike races across the country has recovered to just 60% of pre-pandemic levels, according to British Cycling’s annual report.

The report, which was published in October, outlined that regional racing was “hit hardest” by the pandemic, with event numbers reaching 50% by March 2022, and rising to 60% by July 2022.

This means that in the lower categories of racing, there just are not opportunities for budding racers to try their stuff, across youth, men's and women's competitions. 

These events re the lifeblood of the UK scene, without them the next Tour de France winner will have no-where to learn their trade as a youngster and something has to be done to fix it. That'll involve working with police and local authorities to ease the path to putting on races, increasing the number of accredited marshals and somehow squaring the cost of insuring all that. It's big nettle that needs to be grasped.

Grow membership numbers

British Cycling’s annual report revealed an increase of around 7% in membership income, which generated £6.3m in the year to March 2022. 

However, according to the report, this increase was largely due to a half-price offer provided on licence fees as a result of the lack of racing opportunities for members in 2020. 

While we are not privy to membership number specifics, in the 2021 annual report, over 150,000 was the number quoted, while in the job advert for the next CEO, 145,000 is given. Clearly there has been no massive growth from the jump in cycling participation since the pandemic, something which needs to change. Things like the Shell situation have not helped, with some people quitting in protest.

The next CEO needs to get a grip on sinking numbers, and try and find ways to make BC attractive to new cyclists.

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