British Cycling performance director Stephen Park has admitted to having “serious concerns” over how the coronavirus will affect funding for the Great Britain team ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, but insisted it would not hamper them competitively.
Park said the governing body is engaged in conversations with UK Sport over how to redraw its budgets for this year and next following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to move the Games back by 12 months due to the outbreak.
Like many other federations, British Cycling has already invested some money around the 2020 schedule that it will not be able to recover, while seeing other revenue streams drop as a result of postponed or cancelled activities.
Great Britain has the best-funded cycling team in the world, working to a reported budget of £30million for this Olympic cycle, but Park said it was inevitable that would now come under strain.
A message from Great Britain Cycling Team Performance Director, Stephen Park regarding the postponement of the @Tokyo2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games 🗣@TeamGB@ParalympicsGB and @uk_sport statement➡️ https://t.co/dx5SmQaXpXpic.twitter.com/JofHuaySs4
— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) March 24, 2020
“When it comes to British Cycling people talk about it almost as if it’s a bottomless pit,” Park told the PA news agency.
“They think if we need five more coaches or three more bikes we just crack on and get them. But we’re in a particularly challenging time.
“Of course I have serious concerns. It would be naive to say otherwise, but equally I’ve got absolute confidence we’ll work through those with the key stakeholders like UK Sport, and I’m absolutely confident we’ll turn up in Tokyo next year ready to put in a great performance and be challenging at the top end of the medal table.”
Park said he is now having to consider how Great Britain can best handle the challenges, including the possibility of needing to furlough some staff, but said they were the same demands being faced by federations across the world.
“We saw last week the US team have just put a significant number of staff on furlough, and we know that is happening across other sports,” he said.
“It’s all happening day by day, but I’m not sat here with my head in my hands, I’m actually really optimistic for Tokyo.
“The riders and staff have been dealing with the challenges with incredible vigour, incredible resilience, and I believe we’ll be stronger in 2021 than in 2020. Out of adversity you can see strength and that’s what I’m feeling from within the team.”
The majority of the elite cycling team’s funding comes from UK Sport, and Park has been in conversations with the body over how the budget is redrawn to deal with the evolving situation.
But British Cycling’s situation is complicated by the fact that headline sponsor HSBC announced in February that it is exercising a break clause in its eight-year deal, ending its partnership at the end of 2020.
BC's performance director Stephen Park tells @pasport HSBC has been a "great partner" but adds: "It's not a massive impact on our program, it's not an impact on (the World Champs in Berlin), and it's not a huge impact on what we're doing between now and Tokyo…" https://t.co/SVsAb4bUBC
— Ian Parker (@iparkysport) February 25, 2020
The hunt for a replacement will surely be hampered by a major slow down in the economy as a result of the coronavirus, though Park sees a potential opportunity with the postponement of the Tokyo Games meaning the next four-year cycle will feature not one but two Olympics.
“If you’re a commercial partner looking for direct involvement with a Games or exposure related to it then clearly you get two for the price of one,” he said.
“Worldwide we’re in a very uncertain time in which a lot of businesses are fighting for survival so that of course makes it very difficult, and those businesses have got to think about themselves first.
“But I would hope as we come out of this challenge and businesses get back on their feet they would recognise there’s a great opportunity to be part of an Olympics at a time when the nation and the world needs some inspiration, and there’s an opportunity to celebrate humanity having beaten the coronavirus.”