Report sparked by Olympians tragic death highlights culture of medals over wellbeing – Fox Sports

Posted: May 17, 2022 at 7:01 pm

Nine months after the tragic suspected suicide of New Zealand cycling talent Olivia Podmore, a damning report has uncovered a litany of problems with the sporting organisation where the 24-year-old Olympian spent her entire adult life.

The long-awaited independent inquiry into Cycling NZ (CNZ) found its high-performance system prioritises medals over wellbeing, the inquirys co-chair Mike Heron QC said on Monday.

Heron said the report found CNZ was an organisation of people who were passionate about cycling and had made changes before and after the review, but there was significant room for improvement, according to the New Zealand Herald.

The independent inquiry was commissioned by CNZ on August 19, 2021 and was co-chaired by Mr Heron and Massey University Professor Sarah Leberman with other panel members including former Silver Fern Dr Lesley Nicol and Olympic rower Genevieve Macky.

The full report was released at a press conference in Auckland fronted by the report panel, High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) chief executive Raelene Castle and CNZ chairman Phil Holden.

Among the most alarming findings in the report, was athletes fear of reprisals for raising issues with coaches and management, a centralised high performance base in Cambridge that carries a risk for athlete wellbeing, a lack of transparency with selection at CNZ, and a funding model at odds with wellbeing.

The inquiry also found a lack of appropriate womens health support and a reliance on traditional male networks particularly within the coaching environment where there is a lack of women and diversity and a lack of support for athletes entering and leaving the CNZ high performance system.

The recruitment of CNZ coaches on the basis of their technical knowledge of competition and too little emphasis on personality, EQ, soft skills and integrity received scrutiny and censure in the report.

It also found a concerning use of non-disclosure agreements to deal with athlete and staff disputes, in a seemingly closed culture within CNZ and HPSNZ.

With the reports release, CNZ put out a statement to acknowledge they accepted the inquirys findings and, for the first time, chairman Mr Holden offered a direct apology to the Podmore family on behalf of the organisation.

The most important finding is that a number of people have unresolved trauma from events that Cyclings High-Performance Programme in 2016 and subsequently, he said.

Olivia Podmore was clearly part of that group. We apologise to the Podmore family for their loss and the hurt and grief they continue to experience.

Mr Holden also apologised to others in the 2016 programme for the trauma it caused, and said the organisation needed and would like to be part of a process to address the trauma, if the athletes allow.

We are starting to turn a corner...but we have a long way to go, he said.

We are going to review everything. Its all on the table. We are not going to rest. We want this to be the last cycling inquiry.

It is the second inquiry after a similar one in 2018, also conducted by Mr Heron, which revealed a lack of accountability and leadership throughout CNZ and a reluctance to raise issues, including bullying.

That 2018 review stemmed from an incident which Podmore actually first reported to Cycling NZ management during a training camp in Bordeaux in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

After an intimate relationship between then-coach Anthony Peden and an athlete was exposed at Bordeaux, Cycling NZ management pressured Podmore to lie about it. Podmore was not the athlete in the relationship.

This pressure on Podmore extended up until the 2018 Heron Report which outlined its own raft of recommendations to improve the culture at Cycling NZ.

Despite naming Podmore seven times, the report explicitly distanced itself from reporting on her experiences of CNZ or HPSNZ due to the ongoing coronial inquest into her death.

Eric Murray on inquiry findings: Sh** like that has to change

Olympic rower Eric Murray said it was important that the report wasnt a witch hunt over his friend Podmores suspected suicide.

I dont think a lot of this situation caused Olivias death. Theres never just one thing [with suicide]. There was a lot going on in her life and this was a big part of it because cycling was a big part of her life, Murray said.

But it wasnt the straw that broke the camels back. There were a lot of straws.

Murray endorsed the ongoing work and proposals around having a body that represented athletes, which the report said needed to be independent in funding and organisation from the sporting bodies.

When I was a young athlete you didnt want to rock the boat. You didnt want to be looked upon as the troublemaker even though youre not being the troublemaker.

He said athletes were worried about raising issues because of concern it was going against your name or affecting your career.

Sh** like that has to change. Thats not acceptable in this day and age.

Murray said there wasnt a single headline issue to emerge from the report but so many different bits and pieces that pointed to a massive disconnect between those running the organisations and the athletes.

It just points to the chief executive and High Performance (Sport NZ) having a big disconnect.

He said it was a very complex organisation keyed to getting medals.

- Additional reporting by Georgina Noack

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Report sparked by Olympians tragic death highlights culture of medals over wellbeing - Fox Sports

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