OPINION - SUNDAY STAR TIMES
08/05/2011 - Alongside rowing, cycling has become the most fertile of medal sports for New Zealand. Success at Olympic and world championship level, although not routine, is now a realistic expectation each year, rather than a forlorn hope.
When it comes to two wheels and powering yourself around a velodrome, BMX or mountain bike track or out on the road, Kiwis have proved themselves to be consistently world class.
Therefore, the concept of New Zealand having an international class cycling centre of excellence is something of which most Kiwis are going to be supportive.
Such facilities are paramount if the likes of our Kiwi men's and women's track cyclists are to continue to match strides with the highly-funded Britons and Aussies at next year's London Olympics.
That's why it is a growing shame that the tendering process for just such a centre is increasingly descending into a debacle. And, as it does, more questions than answers are being raised.
An announcement on Friday from the Government's sports funding agency, Sparc, that the Waikato/Bay of Plenty bid has been granted an extension of time to confirm it has the funding in place will only fan the flames of discontent already existing around the tender process.
In giving the region until early September to get their funding together, Sparc is only further fuelling the growing suspicion that Waikato/BOP is getting a rails ride from a national body which has already made up its mind where it wants its centre of excellence.
The irony is that Waikato/BOP's local governments and ratepayers are seemingly sending Sparc a message that they don't want its centre.
Those sentiments are understandable from Hamilton ratepayers who have found themselves badly burned around the real costs of hosting the city's annual Australian V8 Supercars street race. The double whammy of also discovering the mooted economic impact assessments had fallen well short has left many in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty justifiably wary of funding more sporting ventures.
And that's before we even get to the $1 million-plus loss on the world rowing championships hosted at Lake Karapiro last year.
On the face of it, Palmerston North's bid looks the most compelling, and its frustration at Sparc's apparent changing of the rules as the process unfolds is understandable.
The tender process has been curious from the outset. Seemingly not satisfied that there were enough bidders first time around, Sparc rejigged the process and Auckland, Canterbury and Waikato/BOP then entered the race.
Canterbury withdrew from the tender following the Christchurch earthquake, but not before asking Sparc if it could be granted an extension to still consider submitting a bid. It was told there would be no extensions.
Yet now Waikato/BOP has been offered one. This is on the basis it needs more time to navigate the consent processes required to raise the council funds that are needed to make the centre happen.
Yet, disturbingly, the mayor of the biggest council in the region (Hamilton), who was elected on a mandate of stopping squandering of public money on sports events, claimed when contacted by this newspaper that she has not even been approached by bid representatives about the estimated $5m to $7m in required funding, a claim disputed by the bid's head, Olympic rowing gold medallist Rob Waddell.
It seems like everybody is far from on the same page in the region.
In the meantime, every other bid candidate has got on with doing what was asked, and within the required timeframe.
Sparc has defended itself by claiming the centre's location is an important decision and taking further time to get it right is in everybody's interests.
Perhaps, but only if it's a fair race for all concerned.
And one has to wonder whether it is Southland which has shown the most wisdom in this debate.
Cycling Southland, owners of the country's only current indoor velodrome, elected not to enter the tendering process and has let Sparc know it would be a perfectly good fallback option – something the Southland Times eloquently pointed out has been the case for the past three years, a time in which the New Zealand elite track squad has produced unparalleled success.
Invercargill's velodrome apparently falls short of Sparc's required standards, even though that hasn't stopped cycling's world governing body awarding it next year's world junior championships.
Quite why Sparc is so determined to have a velodrome that is capable of hosting the world championships and Olympic events, both seemingly unrealistic goals, is difficult to fathom.
And, in the meantime, the tender process has become murkier and murkier.
- Sunday Star Times