Mason Thomas, British Cycling’s Regional Events Officer (REO) for the South region, wrote to the BCC recently asking "how can I support you?".
Funded by the British Cycling Whole Sport Plan, Mason's brief is to increase the quality and quantity of participation opportunities in cycle sport events, in the region, across the disciplines of Road, Track, Cyclo Cross, Mountain Biking, BMX and Cycle Speedway. Now that may sound, well, a bit much especially for a Friday afternoon. BUT with the addition of good tea and flapjack...
When asked "how can I support you?" my first instinct was to talk about the TickerTape events that we run, and how grass roots, low profile and accessible races events are prohibitively hard to run legitimately within the existing British Cycling event framework. Crucially though, they along with all other 'jumpers for goalposts' style events are a wonderful way into the sport, and indeed a very good way to bring on new competitive riders in any discipline.
As it stands, the current lack of provision forces organisers to find the grey area or face jumping through hoops which make the events indistinguishable from other larger events, and hence render the format an unachievable one.
We're not alone either; there are many other 'mates races', invite only events and underground races that go on all over the country. But by attempting to force these events to become legitimate by current measures they will actually be forced deeper underground.The alternative is that organisers take on much larger events to stand a chance of breaking even, but then as already said; the format is lost. Also don't forget that in many cases the 'organisers' are the riders themselves, or at best a local club, event organising is simply being undertaken to facilitate the event as opposed to for any monetary gains. Most aren't interested in being an event organiser, they're just trying to fill a hole in the sport.
As an organisation focused upon the 'sport' this breeding ground must be catered for by British Cycling, after all people have to start somewhere and there must be a great deal of untapped talent that isn't picked up because of a lack of low end events (by 'low end' I really mean 'low-fi').
So British Cycling needs to provide support that both raises the quality of these events (Health and Safety provisions may be off putting and often seen as more hot air than tangible benefit, but if appropriately measured they are very important and offer more value than they do headache), but also allows them to exist at all by retaining the beauty of the turn up and ride, informal vibe that's so important to the participant. The grey area isn't a comfortable place to be, but is one that too many of us are forced to occupy if we are to continue to provide local riders with such important events.
Mason was very helpful, and showed great enthusiasm to what we are working towards. Hopefully this conversation will be the start of a wider debate and ultimately lead to a proactive response from British Cycling as a whole. Insurance packages geared towards club run, member only, low-fi races events, the type that so many are searching out right now are long overdue.
If you'd like to know more, or get in contact with Mason, please see the details below:
Mason Thomas -Regional Events Officer - South -Email: firstname.lastname@example.org