British Cycling: 'Sufficient care and attention' not paid to wellbeing of riders

Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton
Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton worked together on the Great Britain track cycling team

British Cycling has admitted it did not pay "sufficient care and attention" to the wellbeing of staff and athletes at the expense of winning medals.

The organisation was responding to a leaked draft report of an investigation into alleged failings in its culture.

Published in the Daily Mail, it claims British Cycling "sanitised" its own probe into claims Shane Sutton used sexist language towards Jess Varnish.

It also spoke of a "culture of fear", with some staff "bullied".

The leaked draft is reported to conclude:

  • Weak leadership allowed first Sir Dave Brailsford and then Sutton to work without supervision as British Cycling chiefs, creating a "dysfunctional structure".
  • Brailsford is described as an "untouchable" figure, while former technical director Sutton is said to be unsuitable for leadership.
  • The pursuit of medals to secure funding had "a blinding effect, causing clear behavioural and cultural issues to be ignored".
  • Conclusions of a November 2012 internal report that raised similar concerns were not acted upon.

In response, British Cycling says it accepts:

  • Its "World Class Programme leadership focused on medal delivery without sufficient care and attention to the overall staff and athlete culture and environment".
  • Leadership "failed to adequately grasp and subsequently address the early warning signs" of failings.

Varnish, Sutton & the allegations

In October, British Cycling found Sutton guilty on one from nine charges of using sexist language towards Varnish, who was dropped from British Cycling's elite programme last April.

The Australian, who quit in the wake of Varnish's allegations, was found to have used the word "bitches", but claims that he used other offensive and discriminatory language were not upheld.

That included Varnish's complaint that Sutton told her to "go and have a baby".

Sutton was also cleared of any bullying allegations, including claims he made comments about the cyclist's weight.

However, the Daily Mail quotes the leaked draft as saying "considerably more" of Varnish's claims had been proven, but these findings were "reversed".

The Mail quotes the draft report as describing this as "shocking and inexcusable", adding that it "calls into serious question whether the composition of the British Cycling board is fit to govern".

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The background

An investigation into the culture at British Cycling was launched last year following "disturbing" claims of "fundamental behavioural issues".

A number of ex-riders and former staff members have added to Varnish's claims, including former road world champion Nicole Cooke, who told a parliamentary select committee the body was "run by men, for men".

The investigation is chaired by British Rowing chief Annamarie Phelps, and was co-commissioned by UK Sport and British Cycling.

A report on its findings is imminent, and UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl has said "valuable lessons" have been identified.

But she also criticised British Cycling for providing "a very light-touch version" when asked to provide details of its own November 2012 internal investigation.

Earlier in March, British Cycling chairman Jonathan Browning apologised for "failings", as the governing body announced planned changes designed to improve the care of riders.

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