How to become a race Commissaire
01 January 1970
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Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock. I’m glad you’ve decided to download this edition because I think we’re going to find out a little bit about what the other side of an event is all about. When I say that we all take part, those of us who ride take part in events and enjoy ourselves, race, get times and walk away from it thinking we’ve had a fantastic time.
But the races happen under the guidance, under the rules and regulations of Cycling South Africa. Each race that has been sanctioned by Cycling SA must have a race Commissaire. I’m talking to one of them now, one of those race Commissaire’s, Richard Durrant. Richard, thanks for chatting to us, what made you get into Commissairing?
Richard Durrant: It’s a bit of a long story Gerald, but my son was a sub-junior rider and landed up at the quarry in Honeydew in Johannesburg, watching him ride. The next thing somebody said, ‘Don’t you just want to take this clipboard and a stop watch and just a little event, won’t you time it’. The next thing I knew I was writing a Commissaire course and 18 years later I’m still busy.
GDK: 18 years and hasn’t the sport evolved since then?
RD: Unbelievable. In those days we used to maybe have three or four nationals a year, a couple of marathons as we used to call them. Now there’s a marathon, a long distance race every weekend.
GDK: As I said earlier, a Commissaire is placed by Cycling South Africa or do you get invited by the event organiser who has been sanctioned by Cycling South Africa?
RD: There’s a dual function, the event organiser gets sanctioned by Cycling South Africa. They’ve got to do the applications and get all the permissions and everything. Then once they’re sanctioned, we’re known as the College of Commissaire’s and we manage ourselves. We then determine who is going to go to which event, independent of Cycling SA. So we fall under the banner of Cycling SA, but we’re actually an independent body.
GDK: And how many are in South Africa?
RD: At the moment there’s probably 25-30 of us.
GDK: Which probably seems not enough, with all the events.
RD: Yes, a couple of years ago I was at an event just about every weekend. Now I probably do one weekend a month. KZN are very independent, the Western Cape are starting to get very independent, Mpumalanga is independent. We’re still battling a bit in Gauteng, but we did a nice course last year and a lot of those Commissaire’s are now coming through. The pressure is off individually, but the events are growing week by week.
What role do you play at an event?
GDK: So, what is your role at an event?
RD: A lot of people might see us as the peace-men at the event, that’s definitely not the case. We are there to make sure that the race happens safely. That the results are accurate. The sport is fair and that’s very broadly. We have authority and I think you were at one of the events in Mpumalanga a few years ago where we actually stopped the event because of safety. Rivers were flooded etc. and I had to make the call, with the organisers.
It’s not just my call, but together with the organisers, is it safe to carry on, no, the river was coming down in flood, there was no way around it. We had to say that stage was neutralised. We have got that authority, but it’s the last thing we really want to do. In my 18 years, I think I’ve stopped two events, for that sort of reason or we’ve had to shorten an event or make some arrangement because of the safety.
GDK: What would you be looking for? I know you’re not the policeman, but you are the eyes and ears of safety and caution in terms of that. What are you looking for to make sure it doesn’t happen?
RD: First of all, the actual course itself, is it reasonable? But you can’t, on a marathon course you can’t go and inspect the 70km or whatever it is. So you have to rely a lot on the race organiser. You can, by just looking at a few sections of the course, see what their markings look like. Things like road crossings, you need to make sure that those are managed, preferably with the police, traffic police. But if not, at least you’ve got marshals.
Things like land access, you need to make sure that that’s all in place. In terms of the Sports Act, we need to make sure that the event is actually registered with the SA Police as well and that’s part of the sanctioning that has to go through Cycling SA.
When a Commissaire gets to an event, they should check the sanctioning certificate. They should check the police approval. There should be a safety officer appointed now in terms of the Sports Act. Some of the municipalities like down in the Western Cape, you have to get permission from the City of Cape Town, if you’ve got marquees, you have to have permission and plans.
We don’t check all of that, but we have a look to make sure, is this thing generally safe. Our main function is to look at the safety of the actual race itself. But there’s nobody else really looking at the other stuff, so we look at it. But the priority is the safety of the riders, not so much of the spectators.
When things go wrong
GDK: What are the ramifications of an unsanctioned race taking place?
RD: Well, the immediate ramification is that licensed riders, in terms of the UCI rules can actually have their licenses suspended for taking part in an unsanctioned race. I think let’s turn it the other way around, if Cycling SA sanctions an event and it’s unsafe, there’s probably more risk to Cycling SA than the other way around. A rider gets injured at a sanctioned event and it was because of mis- what’s the word I’m looking for?
GDK: Negligence on behalf of the route organiser or route planner.
RD: Ja, then that rider may have a claim on Cycling SA. Where if it’s an unsanctioned event, he must claim against the organiser for a similar thing. It’s not guarantee that you’re not going to hurt yourself or something’s going to go wrong. But we take reasonable precaution under the circumstances, bearing in mind that mountain biking is an off road, quite a dangerous sport. So we look where reasonably practical, make sure that it’s as safe as we can make it.
GDK: At the racing, at the sharp end of the event, it’s pretty competitive and it’s elbow to elbow and it can get quite aggressive at times. Sometimes you have your hands full there?
RD: Not so much on marathon racing, but cross country, lap racing, yes. There you can have elbow to elbow, sprints for the finish line and that type of thing. That can get a bit hairy but generally mountain bikers are a decent bunch, you don’t get too much of that.
GDK: And people, if they have a problem, a grievance, they can come to you and lodge an appeal?
RD: Yes, that’s probably part of, probably the most difficult thing that we have to do. Is two riders come to you, different opinions of what happened. You’ve got to try and find the truth somewhere in between or resolve it to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of both riders.
One of the European international Commissaire’s said, if both parties are unhappy, then you know you’ve made a good decision. Which is quite a way of looking at it. Yes, if one walks away with a smile on their face and the other is unhappy, then maybe it wasn’t such a good decision.
It’s a difficult one because you’ve got to stay totally neutral. Mountain biking is a small community, you know a lot of the people. You’ve got to take all of that out of it and you’ve got to look at the facts and say; this is right, that’s wrong, whatever and that’s what we’re going to apply.
How do you become a Commissaire?
GDK: The process of becoming a Commissaire, just take us through that.
RD: It’s quite difficult, we had a big course in Pretoria last year, we had about 30 trainees. It’s a one-day course, I do the training for the Gauteng trainees. One-day theory course, everybody gets notes, it’s a PowerPoint etc. We spend a lot of the time talking through actual what happened at this. Sharing experiences, people can relate to that a lot better.
Then we actually do a written exam and they have to get 75%, I think it is, in that exam, for you to progress to the next stage. That is the long process because you have to do – and I’m subject to correction – I think it’s 10-12 events as a trainee. You have to attend an event with a qualified Commissaire and you have to get signed off. You have to have a training log. You get signed off and then you can start working on your own at smaller events and you build yourself up.
It’s a long process and often by the second or third event people fall away. So of the 30 people, 20 people we had, if you get 5-6 going through, we’re doing well. So it’s a big drop out. Quite a lot of people do the courses to learn the rules and learn the process, that’s all they’re there for really, which is a bit unfair. But hopefully somewhere they’ll get it and then stay involved.
GDK: Are they mostly riders?
RD: No, riders are too busy riding their bikes.
GDK: I’m thinking, I’d like to go to an event, but what would I want to stand as a Commissaire. I’d rather ride it, but I suppose you can ride other weekends.
RD: Like what happened to me, it’s involvement of family. The mom and dad go to the events anyway, their son/daughter is 15 or whatever and the next thing they’re riding elite. Mom and dad are still going to the event cause now they’re supporting him. Instead of just standing around, they pick up a clipboard and get involved.
That’s often where it is. We’re getting a lot of road Commissaire’s now who are becoming mountain bike Commissaire’s as well, so it’s quite interesting to see. They’re totally different disciplines, different training, but the principles are very much the same. So we’re getting quite a few road Commissaire’s that are doing both disciplines now.
It’s a passion, not a career
GDK: I don’t want to say it’s a hobby because it’s more serious than that, but it’s not a career?
RD: No, it’s not a career, definitely not a career. In fact the UCI used to allow, you could do road and track and mountain bike and all sorts, you can’t now. You can’t be a Commissaire for more than two disciplines because a lot of people were doing it as a career. I don’t see what’s wrong with that, but I think by only having two disciplines, you’re more specific, more professional in those disciplines and not just a generalist.
In South Africa you can’t make a career out of it. Our costs are covered, the event organisers pay a daily fee to have us at events, they pay a travelling fee. If it’s an overnight event, they need to provide accommodation and meals. But you’re definitely not going to make money out it. It covers your expenses and that’s about it.
GDK: You enjoy it?
RD: I do. My wife often says to me, why do you go back and back, cause you come and tell me about all this drama that happened. I said, they’re just lovely people, I enjoy the people. Like right now, we’re sitting in the middle of the bush, it’s lovely to be out, get out of the city. Again, it’s just nice people and nice vibe, it gets you away from real life.
GDK: Richard, thanks very much for chatting to us, giving an insight into being a race or a mountain bike Commissaire, thank you.
RD: Thank you Gerald, I really appreciate it.
GDK: Well, there you go, that is what it takes to become a mountain bike Commissaire. If you’re a rider, perhaps it’s not something you want to do right now or perhaps you might do it to learn a bit, but then also to give back to the sport. We need more and more of that in this sport because there are so many events and the more we have involved in that sense, the better. Let’s hope we have one or two of you who maybe aren’t riders, get off the couch and do a course.
Get out there and all you need to do is to get hold of Cycling South Africa, go to their website, www.cyclingsa.co.za and they’ll have all the forms there. They’ll have a course, they’ll tell you when the courses are and attend. Thanks for downloading, hope you’ve enjoyed that, hope you download once again to our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, until then, cheers.