News 27th April 2016

British Cycling to investigate sexism & discrimination allegations

British Cycling and UK Sport have launched an independent review into allegations of sexist and discriminatory comments by its Technical Director, Shane Sutton. Jess Varnish, who has won multiple medals in the World and European Track Championships as well as two bronze medals in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, alleges that Sutton made sexist remarks. Following Varnish’s claims, Paralympic cyclist Darren Kenny told the Daily Mail that Sutton had made disparaging remarks about para-cyclists.

Sutton was suspended today. ‘Following the announcement of an independent review into British Cycling’s performance programmes, we are also announcing technical director Shane Sutton has been suspended pending an internal investigation into the allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press’, read a statement.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Varnish alleged that Sutton told her to “go and have a baby” after her contract was ended, and that she was told “with an ass like mine I couldn’t change position within the team sprint” after the London 2012 Olympics. Sutton denies that he made the comments, and denies that he ‘said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism’ in a British Cycling Statement. However, Varnish stands by her comments. ‘The comment that Shane Sutton told me ’to go and have a baby’ is true’, she writes in a statement. ‘I stand by all my statements in the Daily Mail interview and have examples of other comments made to me during my time at British Cycling by Shane Sutton dating back many years’.

In her statement, Varnish explains why she decided to speak out. ‘My contract was not renewed by British Cycling after the 2016 World Championships. I appealed the decision with the help of the British Athlete’s Commission and was unsuccessful. I received a termination email from Shane Sutton and within it it said that the door at British Cycling was always open if I met the criteria. He told me to prove him wrong. I asked for a meeting with Shane and Iain Dyer to discuss my data and the criteria but this was repeatedly declined. Despite this, and the comments made to me, I resolved to get my head down and continue training in the hope to show British Cycling that I was still good enough for Rio 2016 and beyond. To prove them wrong. I was also told by British Cycling that they did not comment publicly or announce when a rider’s membership isn’t renewed. I therefore made the decision not to discuss the decision publicly as well.’

‘When Shane Sutton gave his interview to the Telegraph discussing my situation, without any prior warning that he was going to make it public, I was devastated. He said I was “too old” and “not worth wasting UK Sport’s money”. It was at this point that I realised my career with British Cycling, in Shane Sutton’s eyes, was over, and that I would never get a fair trial or opportunity to compete for Great Britain again while Shane is the performance director. There was no longer any point in staying quiet. He told everyone that my Rio 2016 dream was over before telling me. This is why I decided to speak out, I obviously no longer have anything to lose and can no longer trust Shane or those in charge at British Cycling to be fair.’

Varnish also writes that she finds it hard to accept that the decision not to renew her contract was made on performance grounds. ‘Prior to the 2016 World Championships I was not once told that I was underperforming’, she writes. ‘We have monthly reviews and at no stage was I put under review, or set performance targets to keep my place on the programme. The first I knew that the coaches had an issue with my performance levels was five days after the 2016 World Championships, when I was told I wouldn’t be getting a new contract over the phone.’

‘During the two-year Olympic qualifying process, I gained more qualifying points than any other British female sprint rider’, she continues. ‘I was consistently performing in the top five in the World for Lap 1 times in the Team Sprint, and I have also qualified Olympic places in the individual Sprint and Keirin. Since 2012 I have won medals at the World & European Championships and Commonwealth Games. At 25 years old I feel my best years are ahead of me. Sprinters such as Jamie Staff, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy all achieved success well into their thirties, so I refuse to believe that my career is finished.’

Varnish’s comments have been supported by Beijing 2008 gold medal winner Nicole Cooke, who pointed out the unfairness of the disparities between men’s and women’s cycling in an article for The Guardian. ‘In March, Varnish criticised the management of British Cycling for the way it managed the women’s Olympic qualification for the team sprint’, wrote Cooke. ‘Jess has since been dropped from the GB team preparing for Rio 2016. In parting, she alleged that British Cycling’s team manager, Sutton, had told her that her arse was too big and at 25 she was too old and she should go and have a baby. I have my own personal experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess. She was in the position so many have found themselves: speak out and your dreams will be destroyed and years of hard work wasted. Or put up with it and hope. I spoke out from the age of 19 and I know what happens.’

Sutton recently denied ever hearing from Cooke after helping her prepare for the 2010 World Championships in Melbourne. This is despite despite Cooke’s detailed accounts of meetings with Sutton in preparation for the 2011 World Championships in her book, The Breakaway. In the book, Cooke states that she was singled out by Sutton as being to blame for the Great Britain team’s poor performance in the race, despite finishing fourth herself.

In the podcast, Sutton also defends his decision making regarding Victoria Pendleton, who has also been critical of Sutton in her book, Between the Lines. Pendleton also supported Varnish’s comments. “I have never spoken out before,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “But I have to do it now. I would not be able to live with myself if I sat back and let people try to discredit [Varnish’s] character. Not when I wholeheartedly believe her. My experiences [at British Cycling] were very similar. And I know exactly how miserable they made me.”

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