Hot topics close

Inquiry findings do not bring closure for mother of Olivia Podmore, but they do bring hope

Family of Olivia Podmore hope inquiry findings will lead to greater accountability in the system.

As officials prepare to release the findings of a second major inquiry into Cycling NZ in the space of three years, the family of Olivia Podmore says greater accountability needs to flow from this investigation to avoid another tragedy.

Nine months on from the death of the Rio Olympian, Podmore’s family finally received some answers to the questions that have been posed of the culture of New Zealand’s high performance system in the wake of the young athlete’s suspected suicide.

Sport NZ boss Raelene Castle, Cycling NZ chairman Phil Holden, along with two members of the inquiry panel - Mike Heron QC and Sarah Leberman, met with Podmore’s family on Friday to outline the findings of the independent inquiry into the sport.

Nienke Middleton with her daughter Olivia Podmore, an elite cyclist who died of a suspected suicide in August 2021.

Supplied/Stuff

Nienke Middleton with her daughter Olivia Podmore, an elite cyclist who died of a suspected suicide in August 2021.

Speaking to Stuff on Friday after the meeting with officials, which was the first time a representative from Cycling NZ had fronted the family, Podmore’s mother Nienke Middleton says she was disappointed there was no formal apology from the organisation.

READ MORE:* Cycling review addresses raft of 'concerning' issues in high performance environment* Cycling review expected to reveal widespread systemic failings in top level sport* Olivia Podmore's mother shares her shock at the 'unfathomable' news of her daughter's death

“There wasn’t really any acknowledgement of any of the harm done to Olivia through being in the programme. There certainly was some empathy around her death, but that was about it,” she says.

The review panel’s findings, which will be released to the public on Monday, do not traverse Podmore’s direct experiences in the Cycling NZ’s elite programmes, but instead focus on the fault lines her death has revealed in New Zealand’s high performance system. Sources have told Stuff the report brings to light a number of concerning practices within the organisation and wider system, including a culture of medals over athletes, favouritism, staff hiring practices and a lack of consideration of women’s health.

The “widespread and concerning” impacts of centralisation are also a focus of the report, with the panel finding “blanket centralisation” is not conducive to athlete wellbeing.

Middleton says there was some “really good honesty” in the report, but then, she has seen hard-hitting review findings before.

The inquiry follows a 2018 investigation by Heron into allegations of inappropriate behaviour and bullying in Cycling NZ’s elite programmes. Central to that review was the treatment of Podmore, who Heron found was pressured to “give a false account” to protect a coach and another athlete who were allegedly involved in an intimate relationship.

The investigation also uncovered a lack of accountability and effective leadership in the programme, “opaque” selection methods, and a culture where there was a fear of reprisal for speaking up - themes that once again emerged in the outcry of anger and emotion from athletes and parents in the weeks that followed Podmore’s death.

Mother of cyclist Olivia Podmore, Nienke Middleton with her husband Chris Middleton pictured near their home in Christchurch after the release of the inquiry into Cycling NZ following Olivia's death.

Peter Meecham/Stuff

Mother of cyclist Olivia Podmore, Nienke Middleton with her husband Chris Middleton pictured near their home in Christchurch after the release of the inquiry into Cycling NZ following Olivia's death.

“[The issues in Cycling NZ] should never have needed to be readdressed. The first report made quite clear where the issues are. It was a very strongly worded document,” Middleton’s husband Chris says.

“We read in annual reviews and releases in years gone by that the review was taken very seriously. According to all [Cycling NZ’s] statements a lot of wellbeing initiatives were put in place, the proper steps were put in place. It begs the question well, why are we here?

For Middleton, the inquiry findings do not bring closure, but they do bring hope.

“I don’t know if we will ever be satisfied with what is in the review, but we don’t want to be sceptical either.

“I’m hoping there will be a lot more accountability and a lot more transparency going forward and that no other parent has to go through what we have been through.”

Middleton remains in touch with some of the cyclists in the national programme and says she was heartened to hear from an athlete on Friday morning that the team environment is much stronger with the arrival of a new coaching staff.

“She said the new coach is really great and Livi would have responded so well him. She would have thrived. It makes me sad to hear that because that is all she wanted – to be given a chance to thrive.”

Stuff approached Podmore’s father Phil for his views on the review findings, but he did not respond to comment.

Similar shots
This week's most popular shots