Cycling Ireland today confirmed that High Performance Director, Dr Philip Leigh was leaving the organisation – certainly not ideal timing in view of the major championships ahead in 2012, particularly Olympic Games qualifying.
Phil Leigh only took over the role in 2009 with a view to developing the team into a unit capable of producing Olympic finalists, and possibly a medallist, in 2012.
When launching a Cycling Ireland High Performance Strategy plan he said then – and this may well be a main contributory factor cause of his ‘resignation’ today –
“The problem is not finding the talent but the cost of nurturing and developing that talent. We do that on a shoestring compared to other countries. Our annual budget is €500,000. Compare that to British Cycling who had a staff of 250 and a budget of over €22 million for its target of six medals at the Beijing Olympics.
“We are responding to that reality together with Irish Sports Council who have been tremendously supportive of our efforts. We know that we can produce winners and our High Performance Strategy is about being creative in using all of our resources to meet the high costs of having to travel abroad to train and compete at elite level.”
Cycling Ireland said in a statement that they and Dr Leigh ‘had agreed that the timing was right as he had advanced the High Performance Programme as far as possible in the current conditions’. There will now be a refocused effort on development.
Phil joined Cycling Ireland in April 2009 and during his time he has contributed greatly to the establishment of a High Performance Structure that delivered some key results. The full integration of Para cycling activities has provided a solid platform for this group to deliver consistently excellent results over the past number of years. These results include four world championship titles and several other medal winning performances at world track championships, world cup and road events. There has also been a considerable advancement of the High Performance Track teams. Both team pursuit squads setting significantly improved National Records and more recently Ireland secured a first U23 European Track medal.
The Cycling Ireland announcement added that “Phil has built up key relationships with various service providers and commercial supporters that will benefit Cycling Ireland in the years ahead. New internal systems are now in place to ensure that clear pathways exist for the future development of Irish riders. Phil has overseen a sound logistical support over the past couple of years ensuring riders, coaches and volunteer staff can focus on achieving their performance targets. He has also been in the process of setting up a development pathway from youth upwards to enable talented riders achieve their potential.”
Speaking of his resignation CEO Geoff Liffey said he and The Board of Cycling Ireland were ‘ very grateful for the contributions made by Phil during his time here and wish him well for the future.’
Most Irish cycling enthusiasts and insiders, as well as several of the cycling team were taken aback at the sudden departure of Dr Leigh. They will no doubt be eager to see what Phil Leigh himself has to say on the subject. Clearly NOT what the Irish Cycling community would have wished at this crucial stage of Olympic qualifying preparations.