Shane Sutton: Ex-British Cycling director lost Jess Varnish case over use of word 'bitches'

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

British Cycling found its former technical director Shane Sutton guilty of using sexist language towards cyclist Jess Varnish - despite clearing him of eight of nine charges against him, BBC Sport can reveal.

Sutton was found to have used the word "bitches" to Varnish, but claims he used other offensive and discriminatory language were not upheld.

That included Varnish's key complaint that Australian 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 body weight.

Despite the findings revealed in a letter obtained by BBC Sport, Sutton, 59, was ruled to have used "inappropriate and discriminatory language" following the British Cycling investigation.

Its board said it "put on record its sincere regret that this happened".

Last month, Sutton said he would appeal, adding: "I will produce the evidence. Everything comes out in the dirty washing."

He added: "I can categorically state I never made those comments I was originally alleged to have made."

Reacting to the letter, Varnish, 25, told BBC Sport on Wednesday: "I am shocked and upset by this latest news and have instructed my solicitor to appeal against the findings of the internal investigation on my behalf.

"Having provided substantial evidence to back up my complaints, to now learn that the majority were not upheld is heartbreaking. I know what was said, and I know I've told the truth.

"I have requested from British Cycling the full investigation report to understand why the weight of evidence provided by me and others wasn't sufficient for the board to uphold my complaints."

Varnish's lawyer, Simon Fenton, said: "Jess Varnish is demanding to see the report produced by British Cycling which they are releasing in dribs and drabs.

"They have managed to satisfy neither Jess nor Shane Sutton and to embarrass themselves in the process.

"Everyone needs to see the full report to understand how they came to their conclusions and to challenge them if appropriate."

Sutton declined to comment when contacted by the BBC. British Cycling has also declined to comment.

Last month's decision to uphold Varnish's complaint looked to have effectively ended any chance Sutton had of returning to his former post. But British Cycling may now face legal action from both sides.

The letter showing British Cycling's findings, obtained by BBC sports editor Dan Roan
The letter showing British Cycling's findings, obtained by BBC sports editor Dan Roan

Varnish was dropped from the Great Britain squad in April after finishing fifth in the team sprint at the World Championships. She then said she had been the victim of sexist remarks.

Sutton, who was part of the team that won seven track gold medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, resigned in April, having been suspended pending the investigation.

Former European team sprint champion Varnish had previously said she was "relieved" by the ruling.

The report will inform the ongoing independent UK Sport review into the culture of British Cycling's world-class performance programme.

Among other issues, that review is considering claims Sutton used derogatory words like "wobblies" and "gimps" to describe Para-cyclists. Sutton has rejected that claim.

Senior members of British Cycling are preparing to face the Commons Select Committee on 19 December to answer questions about therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) and concerns about transparency.

British Cycling is also the subject of a UK Anti-Doping investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.

What does the letter say?

It says the British Cycling board considered the investigation and report to decide on nine specific allegations:

Discriminatory conduct

  • Use of term 'bitches'. Upheld
  • Use of term 'Sheilas' (an Australian term for women). Not upheld
  • Swearing, use of 'c word'. Not upheld
  • 'Get on with having a baby' comment. Not upheld
  • Women branded as being difficult. Not upheld
  • Equipment not equally distributed among male and female riders. Not upheld
  • Discrimination/careers after the Olympic Podium Programme. Not upheld


  • Body weight. Not upheld
  • Decision not to renew Jess Varnish's Olympic Podium Programme membership. Not upheld

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