Brailsford confused over Commonwealth Games

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Which hat is he wearing today?

Europeans and some Americans might wonder what the Commonwealth Games are all about: they are a mini-Olympics for the Commonwealth, a group of countries largely based around the old British empire.

The latest edition of the games are about to start in Dehli and a row has blown up over the athlete’s village. In particular, the condition of some of the rooms looks appalling, see for yourself at the BBC. Most worryingly a footbridge collapsed this week, raising fears about construction standards.

But some of the reporting appears sensationalist, the photos clearly show the worst of the worst, in actual fact most rooms are clean and ready. Similarly reports of a ceiling collapsing turned out to be a few tiles; not ideal but hardly a dealbreaker.

With this as background today, we learn that Team Sky riders Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh have pulled out of the games, Kennaugh citing fears of mosquito-born disease. At first rumours suggested this was actually because of pressure from Team Sky but this was hurriedly denied by Sky in a press release headlined “Team Sky Clarify Position”. But for me the press release only muddies things. Here’s Dave Brailsford:

nobody would blame the athletes for staying away, but there is no instruction from Team Sky on this issue… …We at Team Sky will support them in whatever decision they make.

That’s normal at first sight. You can imagine Jonathan Vaughters saying the same about Jack Bobridge and Cameron Meyer.

Only Brailsford is also British Cycling’s performance director and paid to support British riders. Should the British Cycling version of Brailsford be sitting back and taking such a neutral view? Surely he should be talking his riders into going, especially if others deem it safe to travel and compete? Medals are at stake.

British Cycling is state-funded partly so Britain can bask in reflected glory from medal wins, there is a duty to attend international competition. Whilst some riders might withdraw and this could be beneficial to Team Sky, it can reduce the chances of medals for the British nations (Wales, England, Scotland etc compete separately). British Cycling should be trying their utmost to win medals in the games and a performance director shouldn’t be taking such a relaxed attitude when his riders get scared by media hype.

  • As a footnote, note the likes of Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won’t be taking part, they’ve opted out in order take part in the upcoming European championships which are themselves a qualifier for the 2012 Olympics. This suggests that the games are not crucial but nevertheless I’m suggesting British Cycling should be aiming to send the strongest squad possible to Dehli.

I’ve written about the conflict of interest between Team Sky and British Cycling, see Team Sky vs Great Britain. The investigation into the matter by Deloitte is ongoing.

Jono September 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm

As someone who has caught and suffered for several years with the after effects of Dengue Fever (the mosquito bite disease you mention) I would be reluctant to go to Dehli right after a month of heavy rain. Mosquitoes breed in still water which will be laying everywhere in an urban environment. Dengue is also known as breakbone fever and kills thousands of elderly and young every year.

TheInnerRing September 23, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Jono, that's true but many athletes are going to the games. With the right precautions there's little to worry about.

Yes it is an unpleasant illness, especially as you say for the infirm, but it's possible to prevent bites. It's something that affects most of Asia, plus central and Southern America too. With the right precautions there's no need to be scared. British Cycling need only talk to experts, you'd think the people famous for planning minute details would have already packed the nets.

John A September 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm

"in actual fact most rooms are clean and ready" – half the blocks aren't even finished yet, and some delegations have been moved away from their original allocated accomodation because of this. The New Zealand delegation have employed their own independent cleaning company to sort out their accomodation – and that's the new one they've moved to.

On the Team Sky v Britich Cycling conflict I think you may have it the wrong way around here. Part of the reason Brailsford was so keen to set up Team Sky was it enabled him to get his riders for the track whenever he wanted, which would have been harder if they were riding for other Pro Tour teams.

It's not as if these withdrawing riders are going to be racing anywhere.

TheInnerRing September 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I'd read that over half are finished John but of course that doesn't make things right. The games aren't for a while, indeed many cyclists are going to Geelong first, then to Dehli.

As for the conflict, it just leaves me confused. I'm not trying to point to trouble, more that the press release left me asking more questions. If Team Sky are relaxed, then BC ought to be less so.

Finally, note Geraint Thomas pulled out of the Aussie worlds to focus on the track, now he's not doing either.

John A September 23, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Just spotted this on the Guardian running blog – might explain why the cyclists in particular are starting to run scared:

"Two of India’s top track-cycling Commonwealth Games medal hopes have been struck down by dengue fever. Vinod Malik, 25, and Somvir, 23, became seriously ill while training on the velodrome in Delhi recently and were rushed to hospital. Dengue fever, which is passed by mosquitos, produces flu-like symptoms and can be fatal. “I had one rider in hospital for eight days, the other four,” said Sydney-born India cycling coach Graham Seers. “Dengue (fever) is definitely an issue and has been a major concern of mine with the team ever since I took on the coaching job for the Games 14 months ago. “On any given day, I’d have up to 10 per cent of my squad off on sick leave with flu-like symptoms, high fever and diarrhoea. “The two guys who went to hospital are two of my best and tests showed they had low white-blood-cell counts. “Hygiene is another major worry in Delhi.” "

TheInnerRing September 23, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Looks like Stannard and Swift are out too.

Again I can see why the riders are scared but shouldn't British Cycling be planning for this and putting in place measures to help, like nets and repellent. It's basic stuff for most sports competitions in Asia, just as you closely watch the food?

Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 9:31 pm

As you say it just raises more questions. With so many riders not going now, it looks bad, as if Britain doesn't care much for the games.

If these riders were all on another team you'd imagine the team and sponsor saying "don't go" whilst British Cycling would be forcing them to ride, or certainly doing everything to make it happen.

Jono September 24, 2010 at 8:22 am

Re: Dengue and precautions. I used repellent, covered up and slept under a net and I caught it. I think Dengue carrying mossies fly during the daytime? I spent a week in a (very well appointed) Bangkok Hospital feeling like death warmed up. I lost 8kg, I was left unable to work for a year and took another year to recover properly. Even now, 8 years on, I still have the odd "bad" day.

So I support those who don't want to ride / compete.

TheInnerRing September 24, 2010 at 8:43 am

Hi Jono, sorry to hear that. It's the Tiger Mosquito that can transmit it during the day. As you say, it is worrying but I still say it can be preventable. It hasn't stopped riders doing the Malaysian Tour of Langkawi nor the World Track Champs there last year.

Anonymous, I'm sort of with you there. I can imagine a trade team saying "don't go" but a national squad should be finding ways to make it happen.

Riders can decide not to go but when I see five Sky riders withdraw within hours of each then it doesn't exactly look like an individual decision, more a collective one.

Jon September 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

As a Brit I perceive a Commonwealth medal does not have quite the cachet of an Olympic or Worlds title these days. Maybe they are tired after a heavy season trying to get points for Sky to stay on the Pro Tour or they just "can't be arsed" as we say in England.

James September 27, 2010 at 10:59 am

British Cycling is state funded and that funding is based upon Olympic medals and as far as I know, only Olympic medals. Commonwealth Games are therefore only a "nice to have" unfortunately.

Nick Evans January 15, 2013 at 10:51 pm

A bit late to comment, but neutrality is exactly the right position for a British Cycling coach to take on the Commonwealth Games. He’s not the coach of England, Scotland, Wales *or* Northern Ireland, all of whom are in competition with each other.

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