Sex, lies, bullying and booze: Wheels come off Cycling NZ

Former Cycling New Zealand track coach Anthony Peden. Photo: Getty Images
Former Cycling New Zealand track coach Anthony Peden. Photo: Getty Images
Sex, lies, bullying and alcohol all played a part in the wheels coming off Cycling New Zealand's high performance track programme, an independent review has found.

A culture of bullying, poor behaviour, lack of accountability and an inappropriate relationship all existed within a dysfunctional high performance programme at Cycling New Zealand an independent review has found.

Allegations of a toxic culture in the sport emerged in June and Michael Heron QC was appointed to carry out the review.

In his report released today Heron said he was satisfied the allegations were well founded.

Heron said there were cases of bullying and that coach Anthony Peden did have an inappropriate relationship with a female athlete.

Heron said there was also a drinking culture within a small group of the programme, including the coach, but drinking to excess was not tolerated outside that group.

Michael Heron. Photo: RNZ
Michael Heron. Photo: RNZ
He labelled the programme dysfunctional.

Heron spoke to more than 70 people as part of his review which covered the period from January 2016 to the middle of this year.

The report was highly critical of Cycling New Zealand management and leadership saying it was responsible for a culture where there was no consequence for poor behaviour and a lack of accountability.

Responsibility for Cycling New Zealand's poor management must also be shared by High Performance Sport New Zealand as it was aware of the issues but placed too much trust in cycling's management to resolve the issues.

Heron found "an old boys club" existed whereby coaches weren't held accountable for poor behaviour.

High Performance Sport New Zealand was aware of the issues but placed too much trust in Cycling New Zealand management to resolve the issues.

The Heron report makes 11 recommendations saying CNZ and HPSNZ need to review whether wider measures to protect athlete welfare are needed.

Cycling New Zealand's high performance programme gets $4.5 million annually in taxpayer annually but had poor medal return at the Rio Olympic where it won just one medal when it was expected to win five.

Heron's investigation cites an incident in Bordeaux in France in July 2016 leading up to the Rio Olympics which he believes highlights the problems in the sport.

Peden and a female athlete ended up drinking at a restaurant until the early hours of the morning.

The athlete's roommate alerted team officials when she did not return and just as a small group was heading out to find the athlete about 2.30am she returned to hotel along with Peden.

A witness at the hotel described seeing an "intimate moment" between the pair.

The female athlete was later described as vomiting for the remainder of the night.

An internal investigation into the matter was carried out but Peden only received a verbal warning despite other incidents relating to alcohol coming to light.

The athlete who initially raised concerns about her roommate missing was bullied into toeing the "party line" and underplay the incident and the role of alcohol the report says.

The report also noted several other incidents of Peden and alcohol and mentions an underlying health problem which Heron believes Cycling New Zealand should have offered greater support.

"There was a lack of accountability and effective leadership in the Programme. The reasons for this are a combination of many factors (including)...

*The particular personality of the coach (Peden)

*the status and success of the coach

*the culture within the programme - a reluctance to surface issues which in turn led to a lack of reliable evidence.

The report also found other evidence of bullying apart from the Bordeaux incident "with a female athlete belittled repeatedly in front of others for raising and issue with her coach.

"Support staff and other coaches receiving repeated comments or behaviour which undermined them," the report stated.

A female athlete was called a "fat bitch or in one case when she was having a slow ride, (was told) 'it's because you are fat'.

Athletes were also ignored for significant periods of time such that they felt less valued or in one instance (became) actually depressed.

Coaches, support staff and athletes who questioned or disagreed with Peden were excluded or belittled.

After the Bordeaux incident Peden was placed on a drinking ban but the report states he was openly drinking again without any consequence.

The report was critical of the performance of Cycling New Zealand chief executive Andrew Matheson who is now on leave.

"Cycling New Zealand did not do enough to respond to the issues identified...after the Bordeaux incident," said Heron.

"Potentially serious drinking and bullying incidents were not investigated fully nor were underlying causes examined or mitigated."

Matheson took "a one dimensional approach to the issues and did not appear to engage sufficient internal and external resources to assist him. Attempts to resolve matters informally or engage in preventative or educative methods were not considered or (if they were) advanced."

Heron concluded there has been marked improvement in culture with the programme since Peden's sudden resignation in May.

Neither Peden, nor the female athlete involved in the relationship with him, would be interviewed by Heron for the report.

Peden provided a written statement saying "the report is grossly inaccurate in many respects and based on unreliable and inaccurate evidence....in short the process is faulty, the evidence is flawed and unreliable."

As part of his report Heron recommends Cycling New Zealand, Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand take greater steps to ensure athlete welfare and suggests consideration be given to establishing an independent welfare body and whether player advocates or bodies be provided with more support.

Cycling New Zealand chair Tony Mitchell said in a statement "we acknowledge the areas we did not get right and that more should have been done. Cycling New Zealand apologises to all those adversely impacted during this time."

"Many of the key findings around areas of planning, performance and culture concur with those from the independent performance review that Cycling New Zealand commissioned post the Rio Olympics.

"The sport has already put in place significant changes as a result of its Rio review which are in line with the findings in this HPSNZ Review, and those changes and associated improvements are recognised in the Heron Review," he said.

HPSNZ chief executive Michael Scott also accepts the findings of the report.

"When the report was commissioned in June I committed to accepting all its recommendations. That commitment remains and will be acted upon," he said.

"The behaviour that the report confirms took place within the Cycling NZ HP programme has absolutely no place in high performance sport in New Zealand. Performance matters, but so do people," said Mr Scott.

"There is no question HPSNZ could and should have done more with the information we had. This is not something we want to see repeated. To any athletes impacted by the conduct of HPSNZ, we are sorry".

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