Cycling NZ pulls support as bullying claims investigated

Sid Cumming (right), the subject of complaints about his behaviour as a cycling coach in...
Sid Cumming (right), the subject of complaints about his behaviour as a cycling coach in Invercargill. MONTAGE: ODT ARTIST
Daisy Hudson
Daisy Hudson
Allegations of bullying and bad behaviour are being levelled at a Southland cycling coach, as the embattled sport once again finds itself in the spotlight.

Southern Issues reporter Daisy Hudson investigates.

An investigation has been launched into complaints against a Southland cycling coach, amid allegations of bullying and increasingly toxic infighting.

An Otago Daily Times investigation has revealed several formal complaints have been laid over the behaviour of Invercargill cycling coach Sid Cumming.

Mr Cumming was the development coach for Cycling New Zealand’s Invercargill Performance Hub at the Invercargill Velodrome from 2016 until CNZ closed it, and its other performance hubs, in March. He also undertook private coaching for younger riders.

During this time, athletes and parents say, he was great to some cyclists. But for those he did not favour, there was alleged bullying, name-calling, and little support.

He has recently secured funding to reopen a hub, the G-Force Cycling Performance Hub, which had been endorsed by CNZ.

However, his behaviour has been called into question following a damning independent inquiry into the culture of the national sporting body in the aftermath of the death of cyclist Olivia Podmore.

And Cycling New Zealand has now suspended its endorsement pending the outcome of any inquiry.

Mr Cumming has denied allegations put to him by the ODT.

CNZ interim chief executive Monica Robbers said in late January this year, CNZ was made aware of several possible behavioural concerns anonymously. "We were not told, and do not know the nature of the concerns, nor do we know who raised the concerns, but we referred these concerns immediately to the Sport and Recreation Complaints and Mediation Service (SRCMS).

"We had not been made aware of any other issues prior to this time."

This week, CNZ was provided with two additional complaints it has also referred to the service.

"As a result, and as is normal practice in these types of situations, CNZ has suspended its endorsement of the G Force Hub, pending the outcome of any relevant SRCMS investigation."

The ODT understands an investigation process is under way.

Contacted yesterday, Mr Cumming said he had no knowledge of this.

The SRCMS declined to comment as it was a confidential service.

Culture complaints

The Otago Daily Times has spoken to parents, athletes, and former athletes about their experiences.

They describe a culture of bullying, favouritism, and a "medals over welfare" mindset.

One former hub rider described swearing, name-calling, and a very different attitude towards riders that he coached in the hub compared to riders he did not coach there.

"He would constantly threaten to kick riders out of the hub if they ever questioned him."

Name-calling and bullying were common themes among those spoken to by the ODT.

A former hub cyclist said they were initially treated really well by Mr Cumming, but when they switched coaches, that changed dramatically.

"Being told I was a shit athlete, I wasn’t going to go anywhere ... It came to a point where I didn’t want to go any more because I knew I was going to be treated really bad," they said.

"With some particular athletes it was nearly every time they turned up. If you were his athlete and you were doing well it was major favouritism ... I was his favourite at one point so I was blind to all of that, but once I came out of it I saw how bad it was."

Becoming emotional, the athlete said they did not want to keep quiet any more.

"This sport is hard enough, trying to be the best athlete you can be, and then you have coaches tearing you and your other teammates down.

"It’s just so shitty and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that."

The parent of another young cyclist said he witnessed teasing and fat shaming.

The parent also alleged their child was forced to continue training despite being injured, and riders were pushed so hard during training sessions they were regularly throwing up in rubbish bins.

The parent believed there was an old boys network that protected their own, and there was little accountability.

"We’re so far south and removed we’re forgotten. He could do what he wanted, he was God, and that played to his ego."

Some of those the Otago Daily Times spoke to said they had left the sport because of the culture.

In response to questions, Mr Cumming described the allegations as unfounded.

"I am honest when I answer questions and don’t sugar-coat answers, but I do not bully," he said.

He used nicknames and "general terms" but did not engage in name-calling.

He denied fat shaming, forcing an athlete to train, or favouring some riders over others.

As for athletes throwing up in rubbish bins, he said sometimes that happened after "hard efforts in most sports".

"My coaching philosophy is to make the riders a better person on and off the bike. I have interviews with the riders and parents at the beginning about the importance of family and school first, then the bike.

"I have multiple witnesses to this philosophy and have never ever put medals over wellbeing, that how my riders get the results they have."

There have also been allegations of a physical incident involving a teen cyclist.

Two independent witnesses say they saw Mr Cumming pin the teen against a wall, with one saying the cyclist was being held by the throat, at the Oceania Track Cycling Championships in Adelaide, Australia, in October 2018.

"I don’t remember exactly what [the cyclist] had been doing but Sid just got angry and just pinned [them] against the wall," one said.

"Another parent had to tap Sid on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey that’s not on, let [them] go’."

The other witness said those present were told not to talk about it.

Mr Cumming had a different take on the incident.

He said the rider in question jumped off a footpath and into oncoming traffic, and he grabbed him and pulled him back off the road to stop him from getting run over.

He "did have to tell him off and to behave himself".

Some people have taken complaints further, including to Cycling New Zealand.

Mr Cumming said he had "never ever" had any complaints made against him, and that he had never had a disciplinary process followed.

The Otago Daily Times has obtained a written complaint made to Cycling Southland by a parent in 2019.

Cycling Southland is the local cycling club. Mr Cumming is listed on its website as a club selector.

The written complaint alleges Mr Cumming called parents cheats twice at an event.

An emailed response from then-general manager Nicola Wills to the parent stated that a complaints process was followed, and the comments were found to be inappropriate.

The matter was dealt with "as per our Disciplinary Management Policy".

In a further statement, Mr Cumming said he was asked what he said at the time and he heard nothing more about the issue.

Increasing in-fighting

A schism between Cycling Southland and Mr Cumming’s hub has since developed.

After Mr Cumming stated in a recent news article that his hub had the support of Cycling Southland, general manager Tony Hammington took to Facebook to state that was not the case.

"We have expressed we will support initiatives that promote the sport of cycling and the athletes, as long as behaviours are commensurate with delivering that."

And, an email obtained by the ODT shows tensions were heightened before, during, and after the Track National Championships in Cambridge in March.

The email, sent by Mr Hammington to several people including Mr Cumming, states "we anticipated there would be some level of disharmony, being a legacy of strained relationships prior to heading north — and so it was".

They had agreed to behave like adults, but that, he wrote, did not happen.

"My conversations with people who were on the ground in Cambridge have heard them say they do not want to travel with Cycling Southland teams again."

He proposed a meeting for people to acknowledge behaviour, and said that he was committed to changing the culture over the following year.

However, Mr Cumming said he never received the email, and it must have been sent to his previous Cycling New Zealand email address. He did not comment on its contents.

The ODT asked Cycling Southland several questions, including whether it was aware of specific allegations against Mr Cumming, whether it had handled alleged issues regarding his behaviour appropriately in the past, and about the contents of Mr Hammington’s email.

In response, Mr Hammington and president Nic McAra said there was no line of accountability between the organisation and Mr Cumming in his role at the hub.

They reiterated their Facebook statement regarding not supporting the new hub.

They did not comment further.

Dr Robbers said Cycling New Zealand did not condone behaviour of the nature described to the ODT, and she urged people with concerns to contact the complaints service.