A lot of people thought Michael Ball and his Rock Racing team would be a flash in the pan, but as the 2008 cycling season has progressed, the team sponsored by Rock and Republic has proven that they are players in the US domestic cycling scene. And, they are not just leaving their mark on the road; Michael Ball has put his money where his mouth is, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities and becoming a key sponsor at both the Tour of California and Tour de Georgia and other races throughout the USA.
Ball's latest philanthropic effort is to establish a "Catastrophic Injury Fund" a "charitable entity to raise money for professional and elite amateur cyclists who suffer a catastrophic injury as a result of their participation in the competitive sport of cycling" as described in a team press release. Money from the fund will also be available to pro and elite riders in European racing events such as the Tour de France.
Devastating crashes and cycling go hand in hand and currently there is no safety net in place, said Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball in the press release. If these riders get seriously injured, thats it. There is no insurance, no pension and no workmans comp. There is nothing. This is the first time there will be a financial support mechanism in place.
Rock Racing will make a "significant donation" to get the fund rolling then the team will donate 10% of all Rock Racing on-line sales as well as 100% of the proceeds from special fund-branded products which they will introduce later this year. The goal is to raise $20 million over the next two years. Also, Ball challenged other industry types who generate revenue from bike racing to also help in funding the charity.
You can say whatever you want about Michael Ball, he certainly talks the talk, but more importantly, he walks the walk and big time. The UCI has shown, time and time again, that the welfare of the athletes they govern seem to be a secondary concern. Hats off to Ball for taking the bull by the horns and creating something, especially with all the serious crashes we have had this year, which has been needed for a long, long, time.
I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the next development from Ball will be the attempt to establish a rider's union, something else that has been needed for a long time. When the riders finally create a unified voice, they won't be treated like second-class citizens by the UCI. Here's hoping it happens.