News Special for June 26, 2003
UCI Vice-president Godkin hits out at NSW attack on road racing
By John Stevenson
Current UCI Vice President and former senior police officer, Ray Godkin, is outraged by an Australian State Government's decision to effectively ban bicycle road racing, and is one of a group of major cycling community figures seeking a meeting with New South Wales Police Minister John Watkins to demand an explanation.
Godkin and associates are seeking an urgent meeting with Government representatives as many in the Australian cycling community fear that the NSW interpretation of the road laws could spread to other states, effectively shutting down bike racing in Australia. As reported yesterday, State governing body Cycling NSW has been verbally advised by police representatives that races on public roads will only be allowed under conditions of total road closure.
New South Wales is Australia's most populous state, and has produced riders such as Bradley McGee, Graeme Brown, Scott Sunderland, Sean Eadie, Olivia Gollan, Paul Rowney and many more.
In a phone interview with Cyclingnews today, Godkin said of the decision, "It's a bit of a disaster to say the very least. To me it's ridiculous."
Like many in the New South Wales racing community, Godkin is clearly angered by the decision, but also mystified that discussions between Cycling NSW and the authorities have been cut short so abruptly.
"I don't know why something wasn't done by the legislators prior to this coming about," said Godkin. "Road cycling is a major part of the sport of cycling. Take out road cycling and you might as well pull down the velodrome because without road there's no track cycling - that's where [track cyclists] come from."
"The velodrome" is the Dunc Gray Velodrome at Bass Hill in Sydney's west. Built for the 2000 Olympics at a cost of Au$41 Million, Dunc Gray Velodrome would become an expensive and embarrassing white elephant without a strong road racing community to bring on riders to take part in the races regularly held on its 250m track.
Running road races in NSW has been becoming more and more expensive over the last few years. The NSW Government's 'user-pays' policy has increased the cost of police assistance for bike racing beyond the means of many organizers. Godkin said that many events had already been lost, including the Goulburn to Sydney race, which was the second-oldest continuous bike race in the world, and the Muswellbrook to Tamworth, a classic that used stretches of the NSW New England Highway.
Godkin himself has a deep familiarity with both the races that have been lost to Australian cycling and the traffic policing issues around bike racing. A former racer and winner of the 1976 edition of Muswellbrook to Tamworth, Godkin had a 30 year career with the police, including seven years as a traffic sergeant before taking on the creation and running of the NSW Action Squad (now called the Crash Squad).
What Godkin finds doubly amazing is that this decision comes as Australian cyclists are enjoying unprecedented success on the world stage.
"When you look at what's going on overseas, you've got Michael Rogers and Bradley McGee and Stuart O'Grady - are we going to send them a 'Dear John' letter and tell them not to come home?" said Godkin. "We have so many cyclists who are in trade teams, which has never happened before in the history of our sport and this is coming about because of our programs in Australia. Do we write all these blokes off and say 'Don't come back, we're now out of it?' Australian cycling across mountain bike, track and road is very nearly the top nation in the world if you take overall results and to cut this off..." Godkin trails off, temporarily speechless.
"The whole world sees how great Australian cycling is at the moment, and Australian cyclists. We're going to be the laughingstock of the world and rightfully so."
Whether the issue is safety or the inconvenience a race causes to other road users, Godkin believes a requirement for total road closures is unnecessary. "There's so many places in NSW where you could run bike races that you'd never see traffic, so to bung this on, it's absolutely crazy."
The next step for Godkin and other interested parties is to talk to NSW Police Minister John Watkins to try and find out the rationale for the decision, and lobby for it to be reversed.
"We're hoping for a meeting with the police minister tomorrow," said Godkin. "[Former NSW sport minister] Gabrielle Harrison is leading the charge as well as local member for Bankstown Tony Stewart and East Hills member Alan Ashton. Hopefully that will try and bring some sense to all this. It's a bad situation."
Having two current and one former members of the NSW Labor Government on side can't hurt, but there's a suspicion in the NSW cycling community that the effective killing off of road racing is payback for political embarrassment caused to the government by Phill Bates, organizer of the now-defunct Commonwealth Bank Classic and Tour de Snowy.
After his event's user-pays costs for police snowballed in the latter half of the 1990s, Bates fought a pitched battle against the NSW Police which he believed was over-charging for services to the Commonwealth Bank Classic. He and Sydney sportswriter Jeff Wells made the case that the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic was being charged six-figure sums for police while other large events such as the Sun-Herald City to Surf fun run and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras were not charged.
Does Godkin think there is an element of payback for embarrassing the government over the cost of policing bike races?
"I don't doubt that," said Godkin. "I got tangled up in that in the end, and that was a bad thing. They've killed Phil Bates anyway as far as running events and the Tour de Snowy and everything else. We had people coming from all over the world to ride those events and suddenly, we don't have them any more. What about what it brings into the country, the money people spend when they get here, what about all that? Doesn't that mean anything any more?"
Has Godkin heard any rationale for the decision?
"No, I haven't heard that and I'm very interested to hear it. I know what happens with bike races and I know also there have been some incidents where unsavoury things have occurred. But that happens all the time. Listen to the radio every morning and you hear about the hold-ups and the crashes. This is just a part of life."
"Another factor is that a few years ago the Federal government tried to get all the states into line with the Motor traffic Act, to have national [road regulations], so why is New South Wales out of synch with the other in respect of this?"
"It's a very serious situation but let's hope we get some sense in this meeting."
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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)