At the end of his first 50 days as the new CEO of British Cycling, Brian Facer is eager to see a return to events and activities and has shared his thoughts on the big challenges facing the organisation and the sport more widely over the coming year.
Following recent announcements from both the UK Government and devolved administrations, there is a renewed optimism within the cycling community looking ahead to the spring, when it is hoped that organised sport and physical activity such as group rides and cycle sport events will be able to resume after a three-month break.
Speaking to British Cycling, Facer said:
“I think it’s right to be excited and it’s nice to see that we’ve finally got a road to normality coming back, and we can see what that might look like. I am cautiously optimistic though, because obviously there are a lot of caveats in the times, and we have to be careful of the variants and making sure that whatever we do is a return to normality in a safe way.
“While we’ll work closely with DCMS to make sure that we’re doing the right things, we all have to be patient and not get ahead of ourselves. If you look back at it all the way to the grassroots we’ve actually lost over 4,000 events over the last year, and that’s really significant to us, so we want to get events back as soon as we can, but we need to do it in a safe way and in a way that they can be sustained as well.
“Like you I miss riding with groups, I miss riding with my club and I miss riding with my friends more than anything else. While I’ve ridden with a plus one every now and then it’s not quite the same as riding with a group of people where you can have some fun at the front and some struggles at the back. I’m looking forward to that normality of going and having a really good weekend either racing, riding or just having fun with friends.”
While recovering from the challenges of the pandemic is a key focus, the organisation has continued to push forward in other areas, notably diversity and inclusion and the impact of Brexit. Recent weeks have seen the unveiling of a new, independent Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, and work with colleagues from the Dave Rayner Fund and The Cyclists’ Alliance to ensure that talented young riders can continue to develop their skills overseas, and are aware of recent changes following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
“I’m really keen on diversity and making sure that were inclusive to everybody that wants to ride a bike, and to make sure that everybody feels welcome. The Advisory Group is crucial for us, because again we have to talk the talk and walk the walk, and having the advice of people that can make a difference for us is really important.
“It’s easy for everybody to go and ride a bike but to actually feel welcome is different, so we need to make sure we’re talking to the right people in the right way, and making sure that it’s inclusive for everybody.
“On Brexit, it’s really vital for us for our riders to be able to go and ply their trade overseas. We’re working closely with DCMS and Government at the moment, and I had a conversation with Nigel Huddleston [Sports Minister] the other day to make sure that they’re aware of the severity and the importance of making sure that riders can have a work permit to ride overseas that’s longer than six months. I know it’s high on the agenda for them, and we’re working really hard to make sure that we lobby for the riders that need to go to get the experience.”
Facer joined the organisation in January from London Irish rugby club, where he was CEO, and has a breadth of experience in senior commercial and strategic roles from a range of sectors. A key aspect of his first year at British Cycling will be the development of a new, multi-year strategy to guide the organisation’s work in the years ahead.
“Cycling is a real passion of mine and it’s helped me through some difficult times of my life as well, so if I can give something back in terms of direction and commerciality it would make me really proud. I was in a job that I enjoyed doing and was successful at as well, but the chance to go and work in something that you’re so passionate about and that you feel you can make a difference with is a calling that anybody would take. I feel really lucky and blessed to be here, and to be given this opportunity, and it certainly isn’t something I’ll squander or waste while I’m here.
“It’s really important that we listen as an organisation. We need to understand what our purpose and direction of travel is – we’ve got so many things that we can do all the way from recreation through to sport, we’ve got a really passionate staff team, a really passionate set of members, and if we can get working in the same direction there’s nothing we can’t achieve.
“Across all of the disciplines it’s a great time to look forward to the future, with the Commonwealth Games next year, then the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow in 2023, and then the year after you’ve got Paris to look forward to as well. The next few years are going to be really important for the sport of cycling and for British Cycling.
“I want us to get back on track, getting events up and running, listening to our members, working with our volunteers, and making a sport and activity we can all be proud of.”