Team Sky vs Great Britain?

A conflict of interest

It’s hard to know where Team Sky ends and where British Cycling and its Olympic aspirations begin. An article over at, in turn taking up an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, suggests it’s something that now concerns the British government (and I’ve got memories of London’s Cycling Weekly raising similar concerns earlier this year too).

UK Spoilsports

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Peter Keen, “director of performance” at UK Sport, an agency of the British government charged with overseeing the distribution of state funding across the sports sector:

Is Keen concerned that Dave Brailsford, his successor as the performance director of British Cycling, may have allowed his Olympic focus to be diverted by the Tour de France? “The stakes are higher, for sure,” Keen eventually says. “It’s not a cash issue because Sky is the sponsor. But it’s about people and their ability to work across another dimension. I think Dave would concede that it’s an experiment.”

And, logically, a dilution of Brailsford’s once searing concentration on Olympic cycling? “Um,” Keen hesitates, “yes, there is. But there’s a counter-argument that the very talented and driven people there need new challenges to refresh them and the Tour provides that. But it is a big risk. Dave knows I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I’m a more conservative planner than Dave. He’s well aware of the risks and my views on it. Time will tell.”

A bit of googling reveals Peter Keen is also an “executive director” at British Cycling. He’s not naive and the translation of what he’s saying is that he thinks Brailsford needs to decide which hat to wear, which job to fulfil: either he’s part of British Cycling or he’s part of Team Sky. Doing both is a “big risk”. That’s polite talk for “make your mind up matey”.

If Britain doesn’t get a haul of medals in the London games then you don’t need to be Machiavelli to work out that fingers will be pointed at Brailsford touring Europe to promote Rupert Murdoch’s empire instead of focussing on velodrome gold.

Brailsford’s in the driving seat… but which one?

What I find more interesting is that the borderline between Team Sky and British Cycling is quite fuzzy. Here’s The Guardian again:

Team Sky and the Olympic cycling squad are both headed by Dave Brailsford, who is performance director at British Cycling and principal of Team Sky. Shane Sutton, head coach of the track cycling team, has the same role with Team Sky. Other Olympic coaches listed on the Team Sky website are the Olympic team psychiatrist and senior manager, Dr Steve Peters, as “head of medical”; the track endurance coach Dan Hunt (race coach); and the academy head Max Sciandri (sport director/coach).

I can’t think of any other teams in the sport where half the staff have roles in two camps at the same time. It’s a bit removed from the slick corporate image that Team Sky presents. We discover that Team Sky management are effectively, thanks to official roles with a national squad, a bunch of part-timers.

At best it means people have to juggle two jobs at the same time, at worst it’s a massive conflict of interest: balancing the interests of the state-funded British Cycling team against the commercial promotion of Sky, Newscorp and the other sponsors behind Team Sky. Are the staff on two salaries? Who protects the taxpayer’s money?

It’s not just this petty blogger who thinks this set-up raises concerns. UK Sport has asked Big Four auditors from Deloitte to investigate.

I can’t think of another ProTour team that has this conflict of interest, except for Astana where the team patron Daniel Akhmetov is chair of the Kazakh cycling body and also Supreme General of the Army (as well as a former Prime Minister). Shouldn’t the British expect slightly higher standards of governance than comparisons with Kazakhstan?

EDIT: 17.04 – it seems Deloitte have a mild conflict since they sponsor BC events and the GB paralympic cycling squad. More a mild tangle than a web but it’s not ideal. Thanks to Twitter’s CraigHardie for pointing this out to me.

8 thoughts on “Team Sky vs Great Britain?”

  1. Anon, nothing negative. It's co-incidental timing. I read the Equipe quote this morning and put it into English for readers. Then I got the Velonation article this afternoon discussing the Sky vs GB matter.

    Regular readers will know I'm not just interested in the race results but will track the behind-the-scenes stuff, including the money and politics behind the sport. So this topic fits right there.

    The only negative thing appears to be the weak governance regarding the dual-team set up. Here's hoping the Deloitte report is published for all to read.

  2. I'm sure it's only partly coincidental that two pieces of Sky news have broken recently; following their very disappointing showing at the Tour questions are starting to get asked. Other teams have probably escaped such scrutiny (Cofidis, Milram) because they didn't indulge in quite so much pre-Tour hype, or have such substantial budgets at their disposal.

    As you say in your post, if Britain fail to win a good haul of cycling golds in the London Olympics heads will certainly roll. There is a lot of expectation already building over here (the papers have been full of pointless 'just two years to go' stories recently). Brailsford's dilemma may be solved for him – the Sky job might be the only one he'll have left. I suspect however that his priorities will be shifting towards Team GB after this year, and he'll be seen to be taking more of a back seat at Sky.

  3. Cofidis effectively sponsor the French track sprint squad and their road squad, any crossover in terms of backroom there?

    Brailsford has evaded the questions pretty consistently. His answer when Jill Douglas asked him at the Worlds about juggling both was to the effect of "I think I can manage."

    As is evident to everyone, the Olympics start 2 years today, less than a week after the 2012 Tour is likely to finish. I wonder how the likes of Hoy, Pendleton and the rest will feel if Brailsford's off at the Tour less than a month before the Olympics. I suspect he'll be encouraged to take a symbolic step back from his Team Sky role and "leave it to others".

    You missed our in that list Rod Ellingworth from your list as well. There's a big lack of clarity about just how their time is divided. I don't think that Ellingworth was at the track worlds this year along with a few others who sit in both camps, supposedly giving other people a chance to lead the team. I'm not sure that's the best way to support the track team.

    Also big question for Sky: come 2012 are they going to be focused on the Tour or the GB Olympic team? Looking at the current Brit crop, Wiggins, Thomas, Cummings could all be going for Team Pursuit, Swift or Kennaugh both possibles for the Omnium. Doesn't leave much for the Tour squad, does it? as for Olympic Road race, well it's a pan flat 40km run in, perfect for Cav, so they'll want some of those road legs there for him.

    I don't think the question is going to go away, regardless of the audit.

  4. Alex, the Cofidis track riders are part of the track team but not THE track team. For example sprinter Baugé is not part of Cofidis and the coaching staff and selectors are part of the FFC, not Cofidis. No difference to road riders, Cofidis does not have special links to the FFC.

    As Damien says above – and he is being Machiavellian – maybe the knives are out for Brailsford, that Keen is deliberately putting out warnings via the media, it's easier to have a go at him now Brailsford's lustre has rubbed off following Team Sky's rather quiet season so far.

    Stay tuned this week as I'll attempt a review of Team Sky's season so far.

  5. Anonymous, which way do you see it?
    a) that it's not a coded message to chose Team Sky or British cycling, and simply a "risk"
    b) it's a blunt message from Keen, via a national newspaper, to Brailsford and the board of British Cycling?

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