As the media we have the ability to present you the story through a filter of our beliefs, agendas and opinions. And though here at Full Sus we make every attempt to offer unbiased perspectives, we have fallen short on occasions, especially when it comes to CSA. Sport administration is a difficult job, fraught with conflicting politics. CSA walks a tightrope governing the sport we love and takes flak from all sides. So to let CSA present their case, unfiltered, we posed the Director of the mountain biking portfolio of Cycling South Africa, Brett Coates a few open ended questions. Here’s the official word from CSA:
FS: Before we chat about CSA let’s just recap on the Commonwealth Games. In the mountain biking Mariske’s pre-race fall and Phillip’s puncture were terribly unlucky; do you regret not being able to convince SASCOC to take a bigger contingent of riders, especially seeing how well the Kiwis worked together in the Men’s race?
BC: Yes, there’s absolutely no doubt that Mariske’s fall was rather disastrous for us, she was in good form and confident. Only the Canadians offered any real opposition. As it is, her injury was worse than we thought (In Mariske words she “managed to tear almost every abdominal muscle and then some other things as well.”) and she is now out of the Worlds team as a consequence. We all wish her a speedy recovery. Phillip had no mechanicals on the day, it was assumed by the Twittersphere that he had, but he actually just couldn’t find his legs. We’ve had a long discussion and it transpires he was still suffering from the “lingering effects of full blown influenza” (his team’s words, not mine…).
I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of SASCOC over the last month and can now understand why they apply the ‘top 5 in Commonwealth criteria’; they are administrators with dozens of sporting codes banging on their door demanding that they become experts in their particular field. RSA hasn’t the money to send 500 athletes so an equitable method of judging a code’s potential for medals has to be found and as it stand this is it. Moving forward we need to look at how we structure our racing and how we advise our athletes in order to do the best for them but also keeping in mind our qualifying criteria. I’m also excited that we will be able to build on the positive relationship we have now established with SASCOC, they are not without reason which is shown in the fact that we only qualified one female road cyclist but they allowed a support team to go with.
FS: Building to Rio 2016, do you think Mariske and Phillip will be better off after their Commonwealth Games disappointments?
BC: Both of these athletes are professionals and Philip was at London in 2012. It is however a different level of BMT that is required at CWG and more so at Olympics. I think they’ve learned a great deal and although their results were disappointing they can now focus on both the physical and mental requirements at this level of competition. What is heartening is that neither has been lured away by the easy money of marathon racing and remain focussed on Cross Country, it’s the pinnacle of our sport but remains a poor cousin to the mass participation events in terms of making a living. You really have to want that medal – and they both do!
FS: Okay CSA, let’s talk about the role of CSA in mountain biking in South Africa. Where is the focus? And what is the route map for mountain biking going forward as seen by CSA?
BC: Firstly CSA is not some underground Mafia, it’s me, Mike, William, Greg, Bosseau et al. It is somewhat annoying when I hear commentators, Twitterers and so called experts talk about how “CSA should do this or CSA is not getting this right”, they all know me – pick up the phone and call any of us, we are accessible and passionate and we welcome any constructive ideas or assistance. In CSA-MTB we have distilled our focus down to our core function: we must produce elite athletes to compete at World Champs and Olympics. This involves not only the athlete development but also the structure of our season, the campaigns within Africa as well as a clear understanding of participation criteria and UCI rankings. We have initiated a High Performance program for both Cross Country and Down Hill which will assist in giving us a direct line to our riders enabling us to not only give them advice on everything from training and race schedule but also make them feel part of something important, I want to get past the old days of seemingly plucking team names out of fresh air, athletes must have a clear vision of their goals and the route map to achieve them.
FS: Developing talent is a major issue for all South African sporting codes, especially developing talent from previously disadvantaged communities. How is CSA helping produce the future stars of the sport?
BC: CSA is currently based on a club system. Many clubs were formed merely so a bunch of mates could ride together in the same kit, not because they wanted to be the next champion for cycling development. There are currently a host of private initiatives out there that are doing amazing work. It is our mission to partner with these programs and offer support and assistance as well as harvest the talent that these guys are unearthing. Added to this and as funding allows, we will also assist individual athletes who may lack the resources to take their careers forwards. We now also have Schools Cycling as an affiliate of CSA, we are getting 300 to 600 kids of all backgrounds pitching up at these races and this is already bearing fruit. Again, forcing volunteers to do something they never envisaged is never going to work, our plan is to partner and assist existing programs whilst looking to initiate new ones where there is a need and passionate people to implement it.
FS: And what structures are in place to help the current crop of riders advance internationally?
BC: Again, our HP program will guide athletes with their careers and help them structure their season to gain the best advantage from our own domestic races whilst gaining international experience. For 2014 and 2015 our Cross Country races have been Category 1 UCI, meaning that there has been the maximum points on offer as well as substantial prize money. A rider with a passion for XCO doesn’t have to compromise his season by having to do random marathon races to earn some extra money. XCO is a passion, you have to want to be the best, not only fitter but technically adept as well, we have structured our calendar so that riders who can, or qualify should funding be available, go to a couple of World Cups without compromising their local season whilst the Cat 1 points we have made available will get them a better seeding. Even in this day and age where there is a marathon race every weekend with TV coverage and sponsorship, I’m always amazed by the guys out there who still want that World Champs Medal want to pull on our SA jersey and line up at the Olympics.
FS: While cross-country mountain biking continues to grow, what is CSA’s take on the downhill scene that seems to have stagnated badly. Are there programmes in place to develop the next “Greg Minnaar” and “Andrew Neetling”?
BC: Unfortunately DH is becoming beyond the pockets of most riders. A competitive bike costs upwards of R50k never mind all the kit that goes with it. Add to this that there are very few races, it’s not a great investment for parents – did I mention the medical bills? The saviour for DH is no doubt the emergence of Enduro racing. Back in 1996 you rode XC on Saturday and DH on Sunday on the same bike! Enduro can bring back that fun easily accessible entry into DH. I actually think that if we change the format slightly – not have guys have to ride uphill, the numbers at Enduro’s will multiply and we can then entice those with a thirst for more of the same to give DH a go. We’ve also decided to focus the National DH races to areas where there are riders, if you have a DH in George or even JHB you only get 30-40 riders whereas the same event at Cascades or Cape Town draws 100. Provinces must also host smaller Enduro/DH events to get guys back into the groove of bombing downhill for fun.
FS: How would you motivate Full Sus readers to become members of CSA, and what are the benefits of membership for riders and CSA affiliated races?
BC: We have some very exciting initiatives in the pipeline, from insurance packages, membership levels and offerings to race organisers. This year’s PPA ruling could have been seen as a negative but it has forced us to look at our core business and develop products that are relevant and offer value. Sure, a race organiser can elect to not sanction his race but although he saves a few Rands that event has no commissaries, may not be up to the standard laid down by CSA/UCI and may leave landowners exposed to liability. From the riders’ perspective we want our constituents to want to join CSA. We are offering specialist internet services through the ‘my genie’ web portal enabling us to tailor news to specific disciplines of the sport as well as the regular licensing service required for competing at the higher level. We also want guys to walk away feeling they are part of something important. We are doing good work, we have a dynamic passionate team and by joining CSA you can be a part of it.
The link to the online community is http://www.mygeni.org/brandpage/Cycling_South_Africa.mygeni but you need to be a member to access!
Brett Coates started mountain biking in the good old days in Sabie in 1996, got involved in administration in 1998 running the Sabie Classic and Nationals, became Chairman of MaMBA in 2000 and on the board of SA-MTB. Elected to CSA-MTB Director in 2012 and promptly fell off at Mankele and broke every bone in his body. He managed the SA Marathon Team to Austria, the Worlds Team at PMB, the XCO team to China Invitational and in 2014 the cycling team to Commonwealth Games. He doesn’t tolerate bullsh*t or perpetual self-promoters, believes that you will be judged by your actions, not words.