The publication of the independent review into British Cycling’s working culture and the media coverage the report has received are stark reminders of how important reputation is to sporting organisations.
The review panel concluded that British Cycling had been guilty of extensive management failings and recommended not only significant behavioural changes, but that future UK Sport funding should be contingent on addressing the review panel’s findings.
British Cycling’s response – an apology for its failings and an acceptance of all the recommendations in the report – seems on the face of it to be a reasonable attempt at establishing a solid base from which to move on.
Instead, however, British Cycling and the review panel have been severely criticised.
An earlier draft of the report leaked in March contained even more damning findings, resulting in suggestions that the final report represents a “whitewash”, while former British Cycling rider Jess Varnish – whose allegations sparked the review – has described it as “laughable”. Furthermore, all this comes in the same year that British Cycling has faced repeated questions regarding its adherence to doping regulations.
British Cycling’s stated aims as an organisation are threefold: to deliver success in competitive cycling; to grow cycling as a recreational activity; and to influence local and national government to implement policies that improve facilities for cyclists.
The reputational damage British Cycling has suffered has the potential to significantly undermine its ability to deliver on all these aims.
On the competitive front, success relies on a supply of talent. With question marks over its treatment of athletes and its commitment to anti-doping rules, young athletic talent may well seek opportunities in other sports.
Moreover, elite sport requires elite facilities and coaching, making financial investment critical. British Cycling will not only be anxious to secure the future of its UK Sport funding, but also the ongoing investment of commercial partners and sponsors who may wish to review the impact of negative publicity on their own reputations.
If investment streams are constricted, this will also affect the ability of British Cycling to run its recreational cycling initiatives, which could in turn reduce the numbers of young people taking up the sport.
And British Cycling may also find political support much harder to come by, weakening its hand as it seeks to retain public funding and lobby government to improve conditions for cyclists.
As British Cycling seeks to get to grips with the immediate PR crisis, it must also begin to understand these wider reputational ramifications and the actions it must take to rebuild. That British Cycling is a governing body rather than a business solely reliant on commercial revenue streams does not diminish the imperatives.
A weak reputation damages organisational performance, and just as businesses recognise and work hard to build and protect value through strong reputations, so must British Cycling.
Demonstrating commitment to behavioural change will require strong statements of intent backed up by firm action and the publication of new working practices and guidelines, but ultimately success or failure will be determined in the court of public and stakeholder opinion.
Populus unlocks the Critical Knowledge that brands need to better understand the world around us. We add value to our findings by applying expert analysis to uncover clear, actionable insight. Find out more by calling 020 7253 9900 or emailing email@example.com.