British cycling CEO Rugby League World Cup

Meet the Member: “I can’t wait to get involved in the workings of British Cycling”

May 10, 2023

Jon Dutton has worked in professional sport for years and has worked on the last three Ruby League World Cups before recently moving to become the new CEO of British Cycling.

So Jon to kick off, take us through your journey in sport?

Firstly, I would just like to say that I have been incredibly privileged to work in professional sport for about 28 years now. I did a degree in sports management at Northumbria University and from there I went to work at the European Tour for about six years. That was an amazing experience, the highlight of which was definitely the Ryder Cup in 1997 at Valderrama. I then moved to Manchester FA as Chief Executive, so that was covering everything from grassroots football to the Champions League Final at Old Trafford in 2003. 

After that I took a break from the rights holder side of the sports business and with a business partner set up a consultancy. We did a lot of work with the FA around blind and visibility football and helped out on the Blind Football World Championship in 2010. Then for the last 12 years I have been immersed in Rugby League World Cups delivering the last three and now after a little break I have just started as the CEO of British Cycling. 

You have just finished as CEO of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, talk us through that experience?

Yeah I mean it certainly feels like it has been a long time. We started work on the project in 2015 so we are talking really seven years from inception to delivery. I am incredibly proud of our achievements. We came up against significant adversity, the same as everyone in the pandemic, but we had postponements and then last summer we had the cost of living crisis as well. 

In the end we delivered 61 games, 21 venues, 18 host towns and cities, 32 teams and three tournaments all running simultaneously. Delivering the three tournaments at the same time was a massive achievement for us. It was the first time it had ever been done and I hope it becomes the standard for events moving forward. 

We have also done our best to have social impact in and around the north of England where the games were played. There has been around £30 million invested in trying to change people’s lives for the better. For me that is the best legacy of the tournament.

You have worked on three consecutive Rugby League World Cups tell us a bit about the similarities and differences of each?

Yeah, it started off with the 2013 tournament. This was the first tournament that had the every four-year format that we have come to recognise in the FIFA World Cup. It was the first tournament with quarter finals and 14 teams. We also set a record crowd at Old Trafford for the final between Australia and New Zealand. For that tournament it was still very much a small team, a small budget and no real post-tournament legacy and that was never really in the plan. 

I then moved on to 2017 in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea which was completely different because every team flew to every game. It was great to be out there and we were running both men and women at the same time. 

For 2021 we had a little more lead time than the other tournaments and this meant we were able to expand the tournament and really plan in and create a legacy after the tournament. It was fantastic to add wheelchair Rugby League in and we got some great feedback from people who were following it on BBC Sport. 

All three tournaments were very different from a personal perspective and there are so many great memories from each of them. 

How has Rugby League evolved in your time working in the sport?

It is a sport with a great heritage going all the way back to 1895. I think the small part we have been able to play is increasing the visibility of the sport through the BBC coverage. We have tried to make the sport more inclusive and try to get rid of some of the barriers that are stopping people from participating. 

With the legacy from this tournament we are trying to get more people involved in the sport and that doesn’t just mean playing it means volunteering and spectating as well. We also can see the effects of Covid on people so we tried to encourage people to get out more even with art and culture projects that aren’t intrinsically linked to the sport. 

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the fact that RLWC 2021 was the first tournament to have male, female and disability teams competing at the same time. Tell us a bit about the decision making process and how you executed it?

It was really based on our values and our ambition really. It looked great written down on a slide, but when it came to delivering it was a real challenge but I am so proud of the team for being able to pull it off. 

We introduced prize money for the women’s and wheelchair competitions for the first time. We also had to tackle scheduling challenges because the female athletes are not full time athletes.

Look it was a big task and it meant that we needed a lot of venues, 21, to be precise and the diversity in arena’s from Old Trafford to the EIS in Sheffield which was our smallest arena for the wheelchair competition. It was great to have the vision and we had a brilliant board supporting us in all the decisions that we made. 

Then you take it back to August 4th and 5th 2021 with two months out from the tournament. Australia and New Zealand were not going to come over and take part in the tournament so we had a real big decision to make. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make especially when we were relying a lot on Premier League and EFL grounds. The team did an incredible job putting the schedule back together in two weeks and we only lost two venues in the end. We really had to make sure that the athletes and their well being were at the centre of what we were trying to do.

I am not going to sit here and say we got everything right, because we really didn’t but there are so many things we can learn from. 

You have been on the Major Events Panel for UK Sport for the past five years. What has that experience been like?

It was an absolute privilege to be asked to be part of the panel and I am now in my second term. I think we’ve seen such a dramatic shift in the delivery and the aspirations of sports events, that just reflects society. So if you look at the Olympic and Paralympic sports and the introduction of sport climbing, breaking, skateboarding, that then is reflected in some of the applications that we’ve seen on the panel. It has been great to be involved in that evolution. 

We need to ensure that coming to live sports to an event remains really special, it brings people together. It’s a celebration of humanity. And I think that’s why events will remain really special. But everyone in the industry needs to continue to work hard and ensure events gett the attention they deserve because it’s harder than ever before to deliver any events of any kind. 

Looking forward then, you have just been appointed CEO of British Cycling. Tell us about that opportunity and what excites you about it?

First of all, I am really passionate about cycling and have enjoyed it for a really long time. I was the Director of Readiness for the Grand Depart in 2014 which was a fantastic opportunity to show off Yorkshire. I am currently working on the board to deliver the UCI World Championships in Glasgow in August. It is going to be a really magical event. 

I can’t wait to get involved in the workings of British Cycling as CEO. It is going to be a tricky time because nobody is immune from the economic, social and geopolitical challenges we are facing at the moment. That will be the same for British Cycling as it is for any other governing body.

British cycling CEO Rugby League World Cup