Saga of high-level sport: the community of athletes split around a new representative body

0
  • Some athletes consider forming their own union
  • The move comes amid fears a new athlete representative body led by High Performance Sport NZ will not be fully independent
  • High Performance Sport NZ says proposed new representative body would be ‘organizationally separate’ but would require its financial backing

A group of elite rowers and cyclists are scrambling to form their own union as questions continue to be raised over the independence of a new athlete representative body run by High Performance Sport NZ.

Things has learned that the government agency has reached a tentative agreement with the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) Athletes’ Commission to establish an athlete voice mechanism in response to a series of reviews in elite sporting environments in trouble.

Under the terms agreed, the new group, the Athletes Leadership Network, will be funded by High Performance Sport NZ but “organizationally separate”.

However, the athlete community already seems divided over the new body.

READ MORE:
* A new sports integrity body will be created following the tragedy of Olivia Podmore
* Neglect of women’s health in cycling was preventable, says leading academic
* After four years and thousands of pages of sports magazines, why do we still read the same lines?

New Zealand’s main athletes’ rights organisation, the Athletes’ Federation, declined to be involved in setting up the new body, fearing the model would be “compromised” by the involvement of High Performance Sport NZ.

Meanwhile, it is understood that athletes in two major Olympic sports – rowing and cycling – have chosen to go their own way and are in the process of unionising.

The new athlete voice mechanism has been a work in progress since March last year as part of the wellbeing measures introduced as part of High Performance Sport NZ’s 2024 strategy, after successive reviews raised the need for athletes to have access to independent representation.

This need was further underscored following the death of elite cyclist Olivia Podmore, with the findings of an independent inquiry into Cycling NZ and High Performance Sport NZ laying bare the ‘unacceptable’ power imbalance within sporting environments. elite.

Rio Olympian Olivia Podmore, pictured above, died of suspected suicide in August last year.

Alex Whitehead/Photosport

Rio Olympian Olivia Podmore, pictured above, died of suspected suicide in August last year.

In its final report, the Inquiry Committee, led by Mike Heron QC and academic Sarah Leberman, acknowledged that High Performance Sport NZ had taken steps to put in place an athlete voice mechanism, but stressed that any new representative body that would materialize should have “organizational and financial independence”. from the government agency and be “empowered to exercise real power and speak honestly on behalf of the athletes”.

Despite the recommendations of the Inquiry Committee, High Performance Sport NZ continued to press ahead with their plans.

He did so without the support of the Athletes Federation, New Zealand’s best-resourced athlete advocacy group, after the organization refused to get involved in the process.

The Athletes’ Federation was particularly concerned about requirements set out in a “request for proposals” document, which stated that the athletes’ body should adopt a “collaborative approach to public/media statements” and “support and improve the HPSNZ or the ‘Existing NSO’. escalation systems/processes”.

Athletes Federation boss Roger Mortimer said the demands would effectively prevent the new body from speaking out against High Performance Sport NZ.

“By examining the [request for proposal] we concluded that its scope was compromised because it did not allow athletes to be truly empowered or independently represented; to be able to speak honestly with absolute freedom on matters important to them and their respective sports,” Mortimer said.

“We felt that the decision on how athletes should be independently represented and able to access the expertise and support they need should rest with the athletes themselves, not HPSNZ. As a result, we have simply chosen not to engage in this process.

Mike Heron QC speaking at a press conference last month following the publication of the findings of an independent inquiry into Cycling NZ.

RICKY WILSON/Stuff

Mike Heron QC speaking at a press conference last month following the publication of the findings of an independent inquiry into Cycling NZ.

Sport NZ boss Raelene Castle said she was disappointed the Athletes Federation chose not to submit a formal proposal, having been involved in earlier consultation on the project. Castle added that the request for proposal was a “starting point” for negotiations.

“We were certainly hoping that the Athletes’ Federation would come into this process with a proposal to consider, but for some reason they chose not to,” she said.

“Ultimately, we ended up with a group that got into the process, and we negotiated our way and discussed and debated in a structure where we’ve landed now.”

Castle said any requirement that the Athlete Leadership Network should take a collaborative approach to what has been discussed publicly and support existing High Performance Sport NZ systems has been removed from the final agreement.

Asked if High Performance Sport NZ had indeed rejected the findings of the Cycling NZ inquiry committee, continuing to move forward with its plans, Castle stressed that the new organization would be independent.

“We agree it needs to be organizationally separate which it is, the reality is that unless there is financial support from HPSNZ there is no other way for this group to athletes to be funded.”

However, the group representing Rowing NZ and Cycling NZ athletes appears to have found its own model, although details of how the union will be funded remain unclear.

Former track and field athlete Sarah Cowley Ross is now chair of the New Zealand Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Former track and field athlete Sarah Cowley Ross is now chair of the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission.

The rowers’ and cyclists’ decision to form their own union effectively undermines the athlete leadership network, which has been spearheaded by the NZOC Athletes’ Commission.

Sarah Cowley Ross, chair of the NZOC Athletes’ Commission, said the group planned to consult widely with all sports before signing any deals with High Performance Sport NZ.

Share.

Comments are closed.