Ah, transparency…. The T word has been in the news a lot recently, with Team Sky facing a barrage of demands for them to release Chris Froome’s power data. If you don’t follow cycling, that data (heart rate, rpm, power etc) is the Holy Grail for fans and journalists struggling to make sense of a sport which has been in a drug induced crisis for many decades. In a post-Lance Armstrong era, trust is hard to come by and transparency is the new buzzword. If only Team Sky (the only team to attract this level of scrutiny) were to simply let the world have access to their training files everything would be fine, or so some people claim.
For those of us who have worked in local government, this may seem very familiar. A risk averse, controlling and monolithic organisation being told to open itself up to scrutiny from a potentially hostile audience. Unlike local government, Team Sky don’t face the Freedom of Information Act, or the ever charming Eric Pickles. Under Eric, councils were told they had to release information on all payments over £500. The theory behind that demand was, to be generous to Eric, perfectly reasonable. After all, this is public money and the public have a right to see where it is being spent. A less charitable view is that opening up council accounts to such a degree was intended to unleash an army of hostile armchair accountants as well as providing the likes of the Daily Mail and the Taxpayers Alliance with easy meat for cheaply spun headlines.
Although the data contains the amount paid and who to, it lacks important context, like what it was for and why it was paid. Without that, it’s hard to make any real sense of what the data is telling you. If you substitute misspending for doping, the data from Team Sky has the same problems. Some experts may be able to study the data in detail and piece together a full picture, but the majority of people simply won’t have the time, expertise or inclination to do so, but that won’t stop them from cherry picking. In other words, the data doesn’t give definitive answers but still gives all sides enough ammunition to fire at the opposition.
There is a simple lesson here for Team Sky. Transparency doesn’t solve everything, local councils still get bashed, but there are significant benefits. Being open gives confidence to people who are less disposed to knee-jerk hostility, it mitigates the impact of hostile headlines and it places the sceptics in a position where they have to prove misbehaviour, rather than relying on innuendo and imaginative dot joining. Far from putting councils at the mercy of critics, it actually puts them in a stronger position. That said, it took a government minister not known for his empathy to enforce this, so perhaps there is another lesson there for cycling teams and the governing body, the UCI.
In summary, transparency isn’t a golden bullet but it certainly helps, whatever misgivings people may have.