“It’s had a profound impact”: Sport’s plan to address athlete welfare crisis


  • Cycling NZ and High Performance Sport NZ chart next steps following damning findings of an independent inquiry

  • The inquiry, commissioned in the wake of the death of elite cyclist Olivia Podmore, produced 90 recommendations for the sport and wider high performance system

  • HPSNZ responded on Thursday with a 10-point action plan, including steps to redress the power imbalance identified in the report with improved athlete voice mechanisms and an overhaul of athlete contracts

  • Cycling NZ has established a new Integrity Steering Committee, chaired by Kit Toogood QC, which will develop its own action plan

A 10-point action plan in response to damning inquiry into Cycling NZ and the wider high performance system will include measures to redress the power imbalance in the system, and a greater focus on women’s health.

Two months on from the release of the findings of a review into Cycling NZ and High Performance Sport NZ, the government agency has released its “action plan” which boss Raelene Castle says will drive a “step change” in the system, putting the focus squarely on athlete welfare.

The 10 priority areas address the key themes outlined in the inquiry panel’s report, including various wellbeing initiatives, steps to improve alignment between regional and national pathways, improved data management systems and the appointment of a Women’s Health Lead.

Sport NZ boss Raelene Castle speaks to media at the release of an inquiry into Cycling New Zealand following the death of elite cyclist Olivia Podmore.


Sport NZ boss Raelene Castle speaks to media at the release of an inquiry into Cycling New Zealand following the death of elite cyclist Olivia Podmore.

Cycling NZ also issued a further response to the findings on Thursday, but the details were more sparse. The national body re-stated its commitment to the recommendations of the report, and announced it had established a Cycling Integrity Steering Committee to oversee progress.

The committee, which will be chaired by former High Court judge Kit Toogood QC, will help rebuild trust and confidence in the sport, according to transformational director Kereyn Smith.

* New national code of conduct for sport in the works
* Cycling NZ suspends endorsement for cycling hub in Invercargill
* Turning despair into action for New Zealand female athletes

The developments follow further system-wide changes that have come in the wake of the inquiry, sparked by the suspected suicide of Rio Olympian Olivia Podmore, including the establishment of a new independent sports integrity body, which will oversee the development of a national code of conduct for sport.

The 104-page report provided a “forthright look” at how Cycling NZ had managed its high-performance programme, detailing a culture of “medals before process”, a lack of transparency and accountability regarding selection and recruitment, and an environment where gender biases are prevalent.

There were lessons for the wider system as well, with the report describing the current funding, centralisation, and athlete contracting models as “directly diminishing” athlete welfare.

Top sprint cyclist Olivia Podmore died in August last year.

Alex Whitehead/Photosport

Top sprint cyclist Olivia Podmore died in August last year.

Since the release of the report, Castle said her organisation has taken time to carefully review the document and consult with staff working on the ground in the daily high performance environments – many of whom were “upset, concerned and disappointed” with the inquiry findings.

“We need buy-in from our staff, because they are the people working on the ground in the environment. They’re people that are there every day with the athletes trying really hard to provide the best possible environment that they can, so it has been a difficult process to work through,” said Castle.

“They care deeply about the athletes, and for the system to come under fire the way it has, has had a profound impact of people.”

Castle said while some of the initiatives were in train prior to the release of the report, the inquiry findings prompted the fast-tracking of several major projects.

Among the measures outlined on Thursday was the development of a systematic approach to the monitoring high performance environments and responding to issues, including implementing wellbeing measurement benchmarks and ensuring athlete contracts are appropriate with clearly outlined minimum standards.

The move to shore up athlete contracts comes after the review panel questioned the fairness of Cycling NZ’s athlete contracts, which imposed “far more obligations on the athlete than on CNZ”.

Castle said High Performance Sport NZ will be working to ensure all national sports organisations have agreements in place which protect the rights of athletes.

“Ultimately those are contracts between the NSOs and the athletes. But clearly we need to do some work with the NSOs so say this is what good looks like, we will help develop what best practice looks like, but also that is where the athlete voice mechanism needs to step into those conversations and say ‘we do think these contracts are not balanced’.

“There’s some in place at the moment where we know that some athletes on development grants were being asked to train at levels well above the expectation of a development grant, so that is a clear stipulation from HPSNZ that if it is a training grant they need to be training appropriately.”

Professor Holly Thorpe has welcomed HPSNZ’s renewed commitment to focus on women’s health.


Professor Holly Thorpe has welcomed HPSNZ’s renewed commitment to focus on women’s health.

Castle said one key move that was a direct response of the inquiry is the appointment of a Women’s Health Lead to implement initiative and raise awareness of issues impacting the performance and wellbeing of female athletes. The move has been welcomed by sociology professor Holly Thorpe from WHISPA, a group focussing on women’s health in high performance sport.

Following the release of the Heron panel report, Thorpe said the neglect of women’s health in sport was preventable. She said she is thrilled there was to be a focus and investment in women’s health and well-being.

“A Women’s Health Lead will be a game changer in terms of providing holistic health support for our sportswomen,” she said.

“We have been calling for real investment in women’s health for many years, so it is a relief to see this being acknowledged as a priority going forward. I am hopeful that real change is in motion.”

In a statement on Thursday, Cycling NZ board chair Phil Holden said the organisation was fully committed to ensuring an athlete-centred high-performance culture that upholds the highest standards of ethics, integrity and welfare.

He said Cycling NZ had made “significant progress” since the release of the review.

“It is important, as we move forward, to reinforce our total commitment to the wellbeing and care of our athletes and performance staff, whilst continuing to strive for high performance results that inspire our cycling community and Kiwis from across Aotearoa,” he said.


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Anna C. Knight

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