Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Kathy Gilchrist – Scottish Cycling President on her First Year, and Beyond

“I am Scottish Cycling’s number one cheerleader!”

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HomeInterviewsKathy Gilchrist - Scottish Cycling President on her First Year, and Beyond

Kathy Gilchrist was elected to the role of President of Scottish Cycling – the first female to hold the position – at the end of November 2021, taking over from Tom Bishop, a brilliant figurehead during his three year term when he pulled the community together during a highly challenging period.

Kathy had previously acted as Scottish Cycling Chair between 2016-19 and also sits on the British Cycling board, chairing the Integrity Committee, as well as being a member of the Sport Advisory Group ahead of the 2023 UCI World Championships.

Her background includes roles with the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Organising Committees, and managing the Alkek Velodrome in her native Texas, USA; she was also the first female manager of a velodrome in America so setting an example to women and ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ are clearly important to her, as is nurturing and developing young cyclists; whilst managing the velodrome she created a junior team with a holistic approach to development and she was a founding member of the National Collegiate Cycling Association.

Harold Wilson is said to have noted in the 60’s that “a week is a long time in politics” – but how long is a year in sports politics? Is it possible to make a difference in that time?

It was December 2021 when we first had a word with Kathy, not long after she was elected President on a ticket of “giving back and making a difference”, so we thought it would be a good time to hear how her first year in the job has gone, what’s changed, and with Scotland hosting “the biggest cycling event ever” in late summer, what this year is going to bring.

Kathy Gilchrist
Kathy Gilchrist. Photo©Martin Williamson

You’ve been ‘in post’ a year or so now, Kathy, what’s been keeping you busy? 

“Going to races! 

“I have been trying to attend Scottish Cycling National Championships and any BC events in Scotland to support our riders. 

“I enjoy being at the races and talking with the organisers, riders, commissaires and volunteers.” 

Is the role of President what you thought it was going to be like? 

“I think the role is what you make it out to be yourself. 

“I believe the role of President is to represent the sport, the clubs, and the athletes. 

“Sometimes that representation is at meetings or at races, speaking to sponsors and supporters – which I also enjoy doing. 

“I am Scottish Cycling’s number one cheerleader!” 

Are the World Championships later this year consuming a lot of your resources or do you have time to work on the goals you told us about last year? 

“The 2023 UCI combined World Championships are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Scottish Cycling. 

“While we are not directly involved in the delivery of the event we will be involved in many other ways; we are laying the groundwork now to be prepared for the world to come and visit and we aim to capitalise on the heightened visibility of cycling. 

“We have plans in place to deliver activity to ensure a lasting impact. 

“I guess you could say the fact that the Worlds are coming to our home is consuming a lot of my time – but what a fantastic project to be a part of!” 

Kathy Gilchrist
Kathy Gilchrist is full of excitement and enthusiasm for Scottish Cycling. Photo©Martin Williamson

So how are preparations for the Worlds coming along? (They seem really well planned)

“While a lot has gone on behind the scenes the past year, the event is starting to feel real.

“You can really feel the build-up; staff are being put in place, routes are being finalised, the call for volunteers has gone out… 

“I have been involved in major events like this in the past and they follow a familiar pattern. 

“I remember working on the 2012 Olympics where the planning and training was intense. One day Simon Lillistone, who was Head of Cycling for the event came into the room and said, “pens down – now is the time to deliver”. 

“That will happen here in a few months too. Then, the cyclists will arrive, the gun will go off, someone will cross the finish line and win a rainbow jersey. 

“Scottish Cycling’s focus will be to capitalise on the worldwide visibility of the sport we all love and to be in a position to share it with the rest of Scotland once all of the fans and the riders have left.” 

I understand that you have been heavily involved in work to redefine the rules and organisation around Trans Athletes in cycling? 

“Yes, that’s a part of my role with British Cycling; dealing with the transgender issue has been one of the most difficult topics I have ever come across in my career in cycling. The balance between fairness for biological women and inclusivity is a difficult one. 

“I follow the conversations both here at home and internationally and all sports are having this same debate. 

“On a participation level, yes we would like to see everyone ride a bike and feel welcome in our community. 

“Regarding competition, we need to define that level playing field for biological women with a focus on fairness. 

“The discussions are ongoing as we wait for the science of the topic to catch up.” 

The Braveheart Fund is now under Scottish Cycling auspices as part of the SC Foundation, tell us about that. 

“I am absolutely delighted with the development of the Scottish Cycling Foundation [an initiative designed to raise funds to support key strategic projects and remove barriers to either entry or excellence. ed].

“The SCF was developed in such a way as to allow a variety of funds under its umbrella – the Braveheart Fund being one. 

“We will focus on various fundraising strategies in the coming year to be able to be in a position to award some grants at the end of 2023. 

“The Fund will continue the great work that Alan Miller and Brian Smith did in the past.” 

From the Annual Report it looks like SC is in a pretty healthy position; 11 Commonwealth Games medals, two World titles, six European medals, and 21 British titles, and importantly, junior level development is progressing well… 

“One of my endearing memories of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games was to see the Scottish Minister of Sport, Maree Todd, celebrating Neah Evans‘ silver medal. Scottish Cycling is going from strength to strength. 

“I truly believe this is because our board, the CEO, the staff and clubs are all working together building a successful organisation – the passion is there at all levels.

“While we celebrate our athletes’ successes on the national and international stage, we also celebrate the success of our club development programmes. 

“I am particularly excited about our Domestic Events Strategy.” 

Tell us a bit more about this Events Strategy… 

“I would say in a word – focus. 

“It is better to have 10 well run races at the right time than 30 races with small turnouts. 

“Part of the strategy is also to look at developing support personnel such as commissaires.

“Let’s agree on the need of races at all levels and discipline and work on delivering those events.” 

How has the search for alternative sources of funding gone? 

“It’s really the work of the the Scottish Cycling Foundation.

“We have two additional funds, the Scottish MTB Trail Fund which is to support mountain bike trail development in Scotland and The Scottish MTB Health Fund which helps to support more MTB and Mental Health (Trail Therapy) Programmes, get more women and girls riding, deliver urban MTB initiatives, support more MTB disability hubs and increase the diversity of riders on the trails.” 

Here on VeloVeritas we’ve recently mentioned several young Scottish riders who are impressing at a high level, how are the plans for the national teams to race abroad going and so helping riders reach elite level? 

“We are working closely increasing number of Scottish Teams such as Alba, Spokes, The Cycling Academy, and GTRC on the track. 

“The strategy is to work with the teams to help them move to a higher level.

“David Somerville is doing a super job developing these partnerships with the clubs and teams to build capacity in all disciplines.”