Sometimes I wonder what the hell people really want:
A “medal at any cost” approach created a “culture of fear” at British Cycling, says former rider Wendy Houvenaghel.
The Olympic silver medallist accused the organisation of “ageism” and having “zero regard” for her welfare.
British Cycling subsequently admitted it did not pay “sufficient care and attention” to the wellbeing of staff and athletes at the expense of winning medals, an approach Houvenaghel attested to in her BBC interview.
Houvenaghel, 42, spoke to BBC Sport during its State of Sport week, which on Thursday examines the issue of athlete welfare versus a win-at-all-costs culture.
A government-commissioned review, headed by 11-time Paralympic champion Baroness Grey-Thompson, into safety and wellbeing in British sport, is due to be published imminently.
It is expected to recommend significant reforms designed to improve the way athletes are treated by governing bodies.
Okay, right. But I remember years ago Britain was spectacularly crap at sports, damned near all of them, and we reached a particularly low point at the Atlanta Olympics 1996 when we won a single, solitary gold medal. One of the reasons offered for why British teams and individuals did so poorly at sport was that we didn’t take it seriously enough, we lacked professionalism, and we did not have the ruthless, win-at-all-costs mentality that others, particularly the Australians, seemed to live by. The government decided that this was not good and Something Must Be Done.
So they hosed money at the Olympics, particularly at those sports where Britain stood a good chance of winning medals in the future, one of which was cycling. With the money came professional coaches, many of them pinched from Australia, and the adoption of highly-professional training regimes aimed solely at delivering medals and securing victories. And it worked: Britain finished 4th in the medal table in Beijing, 3rd in London, and 2nd in Rio de Janeiro. We also saw a British rider win the Tour de France in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 as Team Sky practically dominated those years. Whatever we once were, British cycling is now a serious force to be reckoned with, and similar stories can be found elsewhere, particularly in those niche sports which for which decent funding makes a big difference and which deliver easy medals at the Olympics. No longer are we a nation of bumbling amateurs who believe taking part is all that matters and winning not really all that important.
Until today, that is. Now it appears that winning medals at any cost is unacceptable, particularly if sexism is involved, and our athletes have been treated unduly harshly. So here’s my suggestion: defund all efforts to win Olympic medals immediately and let these sports go back to people doing it for fun. If we get laughed at for finishing behind Latvia in the medal table, then so what? At least we know everyone will be happy, including the taxpayer.