Reid Between The Lines
For every Nino Schurter there are 100 other riders working hard... IS IT FAIR THAT OUR ASPIRING CYCLING PROS HAVE TO FUND THEIR OWN TRIPS? DEFINITELY MAYBE.
Is it fair that our local elite racers have to pay their own way to World Champs? James Reid weighs in on the matter.
TThe MTB World Championships took place in September, in Cairns, Australia. While it was a celebration of cycling for those involved, SA racers faced a daunting challenge – finding the funds to get there.
Cycling is expensive, and the development of technology in the industry drives consumer spending, creating a healthy market for participants. According to consultants OC&C, the global market for cycling paraphernalia is estimated to be worth $47bn – five times that of golf. Cycling is no longer regarded as a cheap means of transport; a bicycle is now a lifestyle accessory.
With this in mind, competition at the highest level is followed with interest, and supported, by brands desperate to market and sell to the audience who eagerly watch the best of the best do battle. The top athletes are sponsored by global super-brands; but for the athlete trying to break into the sport, it can be a difficult (and expensive) exercise.
For every Nino Schurter winning a world title, there are 100 other riders working hard trying to take his place… and they’re doing it without job security, or a large pay cheque! Professional cycling has large contracts and big endorsements for a select few, and relatively little for riders outside the top 10.
This year, athletes from South Africa selected for the World Championships were pay their own way there.
I acknowledge that a lack of funding is exclusionary, but perhaps we could use a hybrid model to fund athletes. Deserving riders could get at least part of their travelling expenses paid by CSA or told they would need to fund their own travels. While it’s easy to complain about Cycling South Africa (CSA), I don’t think self-funding is such a bad idea. We must keep in mind that cycling is a luxury sport for many, and I’m not surprised that there’s no funding from public institutions.
In my pro years, I took paid funding as an unexpected bonus. I always planned my year around finding funding to support a trip, just in case I had to fund it myself, and often had a part-time job. I believe self-funding creates a stronger sense of agency and urgency for athletes. I would even suggest that the athletes who ‘make it happen’ are hungrier on race day, and perhaps more motivated, because they had to another sponsor.
Swiss Cycling and British Cycling have versions of these programmes, with specific classes relating to specific levels of funding. But as developed nations, they do have the luxury of secured funding, and therefore are able to think in longer time frames.