Wednesday, May 03, 2006

David Leggat: Something stinks in hidden details of cycling incident

Cycling is the latest sports body to try avoiding bad news by ducking its head.

Whether it reached an appropriate punishment for two drunken Commonwealth Games riders is near impossible to assess as it won’t reveal what it discovered about the activities of pursuit pair Marc Ryan and Tim Gudsell and women’s national 500m champion Liz Williams early on March 19 in Melbourne.

There’s a common thread among many sports administrators in New Zealand. When there’s a whiff of trouble, go into lockdown. Say nothing and hope it will all go away. Here’s a news flash: It doesn’t.

Cycling NZ has done the men no favours with its decision.

Ryan and Gudsell have been put on good behaviour for the next year, told to get counselling and visit a shrink. Williams was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Yes, it’s a bit wet bus-tickety, as Williams’ mother, Patricia, claimed.

Then again, giving them 50 lashes and throwing them out of the national team for a couple of years would have been at the draconian end of the scale.

If Ryan and Gudsell’s behaviour was truly blown out of proportion, why not reveal it, therefore putting the matter to bed and putting the swirl of allegations in their place?

Keeping lips sealed only allows imaginations to run rampant.

If they are chosen for the Olympics in 2008, in many minds it’ll be, "Aren’t those the guys who ... ?"

Cycling administrators should also look hard at themselves over president Wayne Hudson’s comment that heavy drinking in post-competition celebrations had played its part and he’d dealt with 15 disciplinary and doping complaints in three years.

Come again? Fifteen? What the heck is going on in this sport?

In truth, maybe not much different to several other sports, but that’s not the point.

Let’s not get too prudish. Throw men, women and booze together in an unsupervised environment when they have completed a job for which they have been preparing, often monastically, for months and things will happen.

I’d wager there’s never been an Olympic or Commonwealth Games where new, often brief friendships are made. It will always be the way.

Hudson yesterday talked of not washing dirty linen in public, of not wanting to feed voyeuristic minds, which is precisely what has been done.

He also mentioned "bad aspects of behaviour amongst a certain type of cyclist". What type is he referring to? Young and male? Track riders? Road? Lefthanders? South Islanders?

You might think athletes are grown ups who should know how to behave while on national team duty. The reality is often you’d be dead wrong.

Should chaperones, as Mrs Williams insisted, be introduced? For 15-year-old gymnasts, absolutely.

For 20-something cyclists? No, but a sensible set of guidelines imposed by an independent manager, not a one-of-the-boys, turn-a-blind-eye official, would be a decent step forward.

Soon after the incident, Nick Hill, chief executive of Government sports funding agency Sparc, remarked that "it raises questions round the culture of cycling and the extent to which culture, performance and results are all tied up together".

Cycling, by most expectations, was an under-performer in Melbourne.

Cycling NZ deserves a pat for revealing what action it has taken. But it could have done much more.


* The allegations which circulated at the time of the incident include:

* Drunken cyclists Tim Gudsell and Marc Ryan strip naked and sprint laps round the Commonwealth Games village.

* They urinate on teammate Liz Williams’ shoes, which are subsequently thrown in a fountain.

* They try to strip Williams and threaten to urinate on her.


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