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“Chilling” power imbalance in NZ sport

Cycling New Zealand has apologised for “unresolved trauma” following the death of a top athlete and a damning review into the sport’s high performance culture.

The independent review, launched in August following the suspected suicide of former Olympic track cyclist Olivia Podmore, found the country’s high performance sports system across the board needs structural changes to address a “chilling” power imbalance between athletes and sports organisations.

In cycling’s case, it uncovered a culture of “medals before process” which ignored the wellbeing of athletes on its high performance programme.

The 104-page report said there was gender bias in the environment, team selections lacked transparency and there were no support systems in place.

Podmore competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics but missed selection for the subsequent Games in Tokyo.

Hours before her death, she posted an online message about the pressures associated with high performance sport.

Cycling NZ chairman Phil Holden said at a press conference the report was difficult to read.

“The very first finding in this document, talks to the unresolved trauma from 2016 to 2018 (suffered by cyclists). That shocked us. Clearly Olivia was part of that group,” he said.

Cycling New Zealand has apologised for “unresolved trauma” following the death of former Olympic track cyclist Olivia Podmore, and a damning review into the sport’s high performance culture. Picture: Wikimedia

“So, on behalf of Cycling New Zealand I want to reiterate what I said last week to the Podmore family: I am sorry for that experience. We should have done better, we didn’t, and I am sorry for your hurt and your grief.

“To the others that are still affected: I also apologise. I am sorry. As we look to repair and rebuild from here, we would be really open to some form of process to address this trauma.”

High Performance Sports New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle also apologised to Podmore’s family and said athletes still experiencing grief would be supported.

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She said new strategies were being introduced to address athlete welfare.

The report is the second of its kind in the space of four years.

An independent finding in 2018 made similar observations about Cycling NZ shortcomings, resulting in widespread criticism of the sport in the wake of Podmore’s death.

© Agence France-Presse

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