Misery of a sports-funding cuts victim

British Cycling’s £4 million shortfall in their funding allocation from UK Sport, announced last week, means their women’s BMX programme has had to be axed. Decisions like these have real-life implications and real-life casualties. One ambitious young rider caught in the crossfire of funding politics is Beth Shriever, considered one of cycling’s rising stars by no less a judge than Sir Chris Hoy. She recounts to The Mixed Zone’s Catherine Smith her devastation following the out-of-the-blue news and the uncertain future that lies ahead

Bethany Shriever, Beth to her friends and family, is not your typical teenager. At only seventeen years of age she is already Britain’s number one female BMX racer. She came back with a bang in 2016 after a lengthy, injury-plagued absence, claiming a world silver medal in the BMX time-trial in Colombia, along with a national title. Track cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy knows exactly who she is and has sung her praises on national television.

Beth reveals: “He mentioned my name when the girls won the Team Pursuit in the Velodrome in Rio. He just name-dropped me and everyone was like, ‘What, Beth?!’ So I thanked him on twitter later on that day and he ‘favourited’ my tweet and I just thought, ‘Oh yes!’” She is, after all, one of Great Britain’s rising cycling stars, rated as podium potential for future Olympics in an exciting sport that debuted in Beijing in 2008.

However, Beth received a severe blow to her Tokyo 2020 Olympic dreams with an out-of-the-blue letter from British Cycling. The correspondence informed Beth and her family that, as of April 2017, the funding for the BMX women’s programme will be cut as part of the £4 million reduction in UK Sport’s funding of British Cycling for the next Olympiad.

“It was a total shock,” she says. “I had literally no indication from them. Literally nothing at all. Up until then I’d been getting my training programme, been communicating with them and my coach. He was obviously as shocked as me. My immediate thought was, ‘Wow, I’m not going to be moving to Manchester, there’s not going to be a programme anymore’. My coach was angry, too: it’s his job and he believed in me and my team-mate, Blaine Ridge-Davis. He kept saying how frustrating it was. He hadn’t been told everything at that point, either.”

They were left confused about whether this was a decision made by British Cycling, and why there had been no prior warning. Beth was devastated; so were her parents. On the cusp of making the life-changing decision to relocate from their home in Essex to Manchester and British Cycling’s headquarters, their plans were thrown out of the window. Ironically, this happened in the same week that British Cycling entered Beth’s performance in the World Championships in their annual Ride of the Year competition.

Beth, measured and sophisticated beyond her years, not only grasped the personal implications all of this would have on herself and her family, but also the wider implications for her gender. “It’s a massive change, and I thought it is quite sexist as well. The boys are now getting all the funding, when they haven’t really considered us girls. There hasn’t been much success yet, but there are so many up-and-coming younger girls. It’s a shame because I didn’t really think it was sexist before this point. They’ve been really supportive and really good with me. They gave me good programmes and funded my physio and training sessions.”

This then is the big question: why was it only the women’s programme that was cut? When British Cycling are already facing investigations for alleged sexism, why was the £4 million loss not spread evenly across all British Cycling programmes? The answer lies with UK Sport. For the first time this year they dictated which of British Cycling’s programmes would be cut. And without giving Beth or her team prior warning, declined British Cycling’s plans to continue to back women’s BMX.

Beth thinks the decision to cut her programme may be connected to BMX’s minority status as far as Great Britain’s cycling achievements go. “Track cycling has done so well over the past few years, especially at the Olympics and worlds, that we are put on the sidelines a bit. And we haven’t had that much success yet, but it’s because we are a small sport. But if there is funding then it’ll encourage more people to try it out. I think they need to be more patient because there are people who are up-and-coming and want to do well. This is the most people we’ve had on the BMX programme, so I think they need to be patient and let British Cycling do their thing.”

So what are both organisations saying about the matter? A British Cycling spokesperson said: “We are still working through the implications of the recent funding announcements and until this process has concluded we are unable to comment on individual cases.” Nevertheless, they did add: “We believe Beth is one of the world’s rising stars of BMX.” Meanwhile, a UK Sport spokesperson said: “We have had to make some incredibly tough decisions around investment for the Tokyo cycle. Within the resources available, we have to prioritise investment towards those with the strongest medal potential as we focus on our aspirational goal to deliver more medals and medallists at Tokyo 2020.”

Beth, quite understandably, feels let down by the authorities. “I don’t think it’s just British Cycling; it’s mainly UK Sport. So I guess from them I sort of do feel let down because they haven’t really been considering us and haven’t been speaking to British Cycling about us women in BMX.” She remains doubtful about whether the decision will be appealed by British Cycling. “They said if they [British Cycling] were going to appeal, they [UK Sport] might just cut everyone’s funding. I think because badminton lost everything, British Cycling is wary.”

Beth seems to be a victim of the politics that surrounds sports funding. In her case the loss of financial support threatens to disrupt the ambitions as well as the day-to-day life of a determined young woman who remains a realistic medal contender for Tokyo. Although British Cycling cannot be blamed for taking the decision, some might argue they should fight harder, particularly when considering the new and diverse demographic that high-profile BMX riders might bring to the sport in this country.

For someone so young, Beth’s fight and determination is exemplary. She must now adapt to the knowledge that her training programme continues as normal until April when she will (literally) be stopped in her tracks. “It’s quite a strange mindset,” she admits. “I don’t really know how to approach it. I guess I’ll try and make the most of it. I’ve just signed a contract with a management company who are going to help me look for money and sponsorship and work. I was very stressed out for the first week when I got the news, but we’ve been talking to people and trying to sort it out. We think British Cycling can’t really let me go because I and one other girl are the only hopefuls for BMX in Britain. It will be very strange if they don’t find some sort of funding for us.”

So there is hope yet, and this certainly won’t dampen Beth’s Olympic aspirations. “I think if anyone could choose their job they’d want to be an athlete full-time. Since I found out BMX was in the Olympics I’ve wanted to win. And since seeing my team-mates, such as Liam Phillips, compete all over the world, and then at the Olympics, it encouraged me to go for it.”

Another side issue is how it has affected the attitude of her younger brother Luke, who is also a successful junior BMX rider. Luke is “at the stage before you get to the serious level of the programme. He’s on the road to doing really well so he’ll be an asset to the programme if he gets on. But he said, when I got the news, ‘If you’re not on, I’m not going on’. The whole funding situation has put Luke off a bit. But it wouldn’t change for him I don’t think.”

So while the Shriever family await further news about potential funding, they must consider the prospect of self-funding some of Beth’s training and competing. “I feel bad [for my parents] because it takes a lot of money, especially when travelling abroad. I just think it’s quite hard on my family. I second-guess whether I should even go to races sometimes. You want to go and do well, but then you think, ‘Well, should I bother, will I actually do well if we have to put so much money into it?’”

Riding her bike every day is instinctive for Beth; having to give it up would be “heart-breaking”. She professes: “It’s just what I do. I’ve given up everything for this sport, so if I couldn’t continue it I don’t know what I’d do. I’d have to get a Sunday job at Tesco or something!”

But she adds resolutely: “It is everything, it’s my family’s life, it’s taken over everything. So I’m going to stick to it and make it to the Olympics.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Smith. Catherine’s latest articles.

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