Former Olympic cyclist Dylan Kennett has endorsed the creation of a players' representative organisation following a review into Cycling New Zealand, saying High Performance Sport New Zealand "just can't be trusted".
Nine months after the death of Olivia Podmore to a suspected suicide, a damning report released today found a litany of cultural and structural deficiencies at the sporting organisation where the 24-year-old Olympian spent her entire adult life.
The long-awaited independent inquiry into Cycling NZ found its high-performance system "prioritises medals over wellbeing", co-chair Mike Heron QC said on Monday.
Kennett, who has won world titles and Commonwealth Games medals representing New Zealand, said a players' representative body is needed for high-performance athletes.
He did so having turned to rugby's professional support for players during his own departure from Cycling NZ in 2020.
In his case, it had helped address the significant imbalance of power highlighted in the report released today. Without such a body, Kennett said "they are just going to keep abusing their power".
"I think it has to be implemented because High Performance Sport NZ just can't be trusted."
Kennett said he was one of those who contributed to the first inquiry by Michael Heron QC but did not take part in the latest review because nothing appeared to have changed and it would be "a waste of time".
The latest inquiry found that processes had changed at the top level but that had not filtered down to the athlete level. It was there, said Kennett, he experienced a continuation of negative behaviour that prompted him to speak to Heron in 2018 and then led to his departure from the sport.
The report spoke of "unresolved trauma" from the High Performance Programme from 2016 onwards - a factor Kennett recognised in his own experience.
Kennett said individual alliances and egos took precedent over a uniform framework applied to all athletes. In his view, it even trumped a desire to win medals.
"If they like you, they like you but if they don't like you - God, your life is going to be tough and they will find anything to punish you. It's not a nice place at all."
Kennett said it was particularly difficult because athletes were pursuing a dream no other job could provide. In terms of representing the country on the world stage, Cycling NZ was the only employer which made it more difficult to take a stand.
He said the change needed to be thorough with High Performance Sport NZ "properly weeded out and started from new".
Kennett is now two years out of the sport and still wouldn't watch cycling or follow results - aside from one competitor. His departure in 2020 brought the end of a cycling career that spanned about a decade in which he competed at an international level, including a fourth placed finish in the men's team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"I don't even want to be involved in coaching."
He said once he coached a young person to national level it would place them in an environment he considered with "negative feelings".
"Why would I want to help a young person get into a horrible place?"
Kennett said he had taken up rugby league and found a better culture and greater feeling of accountability "than I did in the Olympic team".
Eric Murray: What must change after Cycling NZ report
Olympic rower Eric Murray said it was important that the Cycling NZ report wasn't a "witch hunt" over his friend Podmore's suspected suicide.
"I don't think a lot of this situation caused Olivia's death. There's never just one thing (with suicide). There was a lot going on in her life and this was a big part of it because cycling was a big part of her life," Murray told NewstalkZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan.
"But it wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back. There were a lot of straws."
Murray endorsed the ongoing work and proposals around having a body that represented athletes, which the report said needed to be independent in funding and organisation from the sporting bodies.
"When I was a young athlete you didn't want to rock the boat. You didn't want to be looked upon as the troublemaker even though you're not being the troublemaker."
He said athletes were worried about raising issues because of concern it was "going against your name or affecting your career".
"Shit like that has to change. That's not acceptable in this day and age."
Murray said there wasn't a single headline issue to emerge from the report but "so many different bits and pieces" that pointed to a "massive disconnect" between those running the organisations and the athletes.
"It just points to the chief executive and High Performance [Sport NZ] having a big disconnect."
He said it was a "very complex organisation" keyed to "getting medals".
Murray said an issue raised in the report that resonated was that other countries' lead organisations operated over two Olympic cycles where New Zealand operated over a single cycle.
The issue was raised specifically by Cycling NZ in relation to hiring coaches. It said its funding depending on success in Paris in 2024 and it "does not have the luxury of such long term planning" as those countries who were hiring to target Los Angeles in 2028.
When sporting organisations went seeking coaches with a focus on success at the next Olympics, he said it led to overseas experience being a sought-after attribute.
But Murray said there "are a lot of good people in our programmes coming through" who could fill those coaching roles with two Olympic cycles to build that experience.
"There's some extraordinarily talented and motivated coaches in New Zealand."
Murray said the report had raised important issues that, if addressed properly, would bring real and lasting change.
"All you're trying to do is make change so the next decade or two of young athletes coming through have the best shot at their dreams."
SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800
543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942
8787 (12pm to 11pm)
helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.