UK Sport: 'Top priority' is athlete welfare says Nicholl

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Nicholl denies win-at-all-costs approach

Rebuilding trust and changing behaviour are the "top priority" to protect athlete welfare after several "deeply disturbing" scandals, UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl says.

Bullying claims in a number of sports have led to questions over whether winning is put before welfare.

Nicholl's words follow revelations of wrongdoing in football, Para-swimming, bobsleigh, cycling and rowing.

"The shockwaves have been felt right across the system," she said.

Last week British Swimming apologised after an investigation found that a former head coach "created a climate of fear".

The Football Association was criticised after its handling of discrimination claims against former England women's manager Mark Sampson.

A long-awaited report into claims of bullying within the Great Britain cycling team was released in the summer and raised questions over whether the "money for medals" ethos of UK Sport - the funding agency for Olympic and Paralympic sport - was to blame.

Following the publication of the report, Nicholl said a "root-and-branch review" of culture in high-performance programmes would be carried out.

BBC Sport has also revealed multiple complaints over a "toxic atmosphere" in Great Britain's bobsleigh set-up, including a senior coach accused of racism.

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Athletes need protecting, says minister

Earlier this year British Rowing's coaching culture was described as "hard and unrelenting" but cleared of bullying by an internal inquiry - though it was urged to take more care of athletes' wellbeing.

Nicholl said athlete welfare is paramount and "visible changes in behaviour and culture" are needed across sport.

"Over the last 12 months a light has been shone on some wholly inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours in some Olympic and Paralympic sports and in other sports," she said.

"Each individual case is in itself deeply disturbing and the shockwaves have been felt right across the system. It is important that we know the truth and these voices must be heard and the grievances must be dealt with fairly, effectively and promptly.

"Where UK Sport is a significant investor in sport, we are committed to using all of the powers available to us to ensure that these matters are dealt with appropriately and to ensure that any underlying cultural issues are also addressed.

"The re-building of trust and visible changes in behaviour and culture, where it is needed, could take some time and so there are still likely to be some rough waters to navigate but we are committed to the challenge. Getting this right is a top priority for us to protect wellbeing and to ensure we can continue to deliver on our vision to inspire the nation."

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