Motorcycling Australia recently released a statement re High Performance and International Team funding (http://trials.com.au/news/ma-high-performance-and-international-teams-announcement-3264) and there have been some major changes to the funding of all international teams. We’ve also recently seen a post from Phil Whittle (https://trials.com.au/news/funding-update-trials-des-nations-2016-3304) calling for help, as it appears unclear what this all means for our Trial des Nations teams (men’s and women’s) I caught up with our Australian Champions Kristie McKinnon and Kyle Middleton (my son) and also Phil Whittle (team manager for the past 5 years), to get some insight into the situation.
Can you tell me Phil, what’s happened with the TdN? We’ve seen this statement from MA and we’re assuming there’s going to be no funding from MA for the team this year. Is this true?
Well, I was contacted by Motorcycling Australia's interim CEO Jeremy Kann's on the 4th of December whereby he informed me that there would be no funding for any International competition. However he also stated that grants might be available for riders, who will be competing at international events. Since that call I have been in contact with MA and their advice is it may be better if we apply for a team grant rather than individual rider grants. MA's Peter Doyle is to supply more information about the upcoming grants but the word is that we may only get 10% or less of our usual budget, if successful.
Does that mean with previous arrangements MA completely funded the TdN trip each year?
Phil: MA administers the funds for international team competition. They source the funds from the Australian Sports Commission. These funds go towards flights, accommodation, van hire and fuel, bike fuel, licences for riders and minders, insurance, uniforms, entry fees, etc. The riders are required to pay the rest plus a rider levy and organize their bikes.
Can you explain your understanding of why the funding has been cut?
Phil: I have heard several reasons for the funding cuts including The Australian Sports Commission cut funding to all non Olympic sports for 2016 due to it being an Olympic year, through to an administrative error at MA when applying for funding from the ASC . However I haven't been told the official reason. The interim CEO stated the board of MA would be investigating why MA send teams for international competitions.
Will the team still go this year?
Kristie: I believe it’s possible for Australia to have a men and women's team at TdN 2016 in France. The riders will need to be actively fundraising this year, but we have 8 months and I believe we can do it.
Do you think we will be able to send our best team and repeat the great results from last year (the men’s podium finish)?
Kristie: Of course that would depend on the financial state of the top riders. Definitely without the funding from MA, the riders will have to contribute more financially, so the team will be determined by who is willing and able to pay rather than our best riders.
How much does it typically cost a rider to compete in the TdN and how much do you think it will cost a rider this year?
Kristie: As an estimate for an Australian rider to compete in the TDN in the past I believe 3 to 4 grand. This year, there are a lot of variables but I would be budgeting for around 10 grand.
How will the team be picked then?
Kyle: From what I understand the team will still be picked the same way it has been in the past and that is by the MA trials commission and then approved by the MA board. As Kristie said, the selection process may require an extra criteria for how much money the rider can afford to spend on the trip and I think the commission and MA are already working on this to give the riders more time to be prepared. I’m certainly keen to go and I’ll do everything I can to try to afford it but ultimately I still need to be picked for a spot first!
How will the team fund itself?
Kyle: Again as Kristie said, the riders are already actively trying to fundraise even though the team isn’t selected yet. Phil has been actively talking to MA and as he said, they will do what they can but it will certainly be limited support. We have already secured the generous support of The Australian Trials Academy and the Hell Team so any days coached by Kristie and myself this year will have all profits and bike hire fees go straight to a TdN fund. Phil has said he will be bringing Alexz Wigg out for some coaching days early this year and he will give any profits from that straight to the TdN team. I have been speaking with my club, Pacific Park Trials Club, and they have shown interest in taking donations from riders at their events. We’ve got lots of things happening but we need all the support we can get so I think soon we will be looking for sponsors as well. If we could get a few sponsors on board that would be a godsend.
Is it really worth sending a team over there every year with such a high cost? Couldn’t that money be better spent somewhere else in the sport?
Kyle: I’ve had people ask me that before and that seems to be what MA is going to look into too but I think it’s hugely important. In Trials we don’t have the option of being a professional rider out here (in Australia) or a big pot of gold at the end. At the moment the goal of a young rider is to one day represent their country and be on the TdN team. Sure, you can have the goal of being an Australian Champion too, but for a lot of people they probably don’t believe they could do that, where they could imagine being a top four male or top three female. It’s really important for developing goals to create top level riders in the country. I actually only recently read a newspaper article from when I was 14 and I mentioned in that interview that my biggest goal was to one day be on the team. Another important factor is that it gives our riders world championship level exposure. In the past 8 years or so the riders have been travelling over a week or two early and competing in the final rounds of the world championship. I believe this is the reason we have picked up our riding level so much in this country in recent years. Without those TdN flights being paid we probably wouldn’t be able to afford competing over there. Believe it or not we’re getting closer to those Euros every year, there was a time when I thought riding World Pro class was unachievable, now I’m looking forward to when I step up into that class. This year in the Portuguese world round I was only 13 points behind the winner on both days, and cleaned lines that some Pro class riders didn't, that’s gotta say something about our level out here now. The other thing is that this exposure doesn’t just help the riders who go, we bring that knowledge and experience back and pass it on to juniors when we are coaching. When it comes to hosting world rounds and TdNs, I was told recently that Japan sent a team to the TdN last year only because they applied to hold the TdN in Japan and FIM told them they need to be sending a team before they can host the event. Therefore, if we want to be part of the world Trial community we need to be sending a team. Sorry, as you can probably tell, I’m pretty passionate about this subject, I’ll stop going on now.
Thanks for your time Kristie, Kyle & Phil, that has been very informative. It seems like interesting times ahead for our Trial des Nations team. I wish you all luck. You can follow the team on Facebook, their page is called Trial des Nations Team Australia.