Saturday 18 January 2020

British Cycling chairman declines opportunity to apologise to Jess Varnish following discrimination complaint

Matt Slater and Matt McGeehan

British Cycling chairman Jonathan Browning declined the opportunity to apologise directly to Jess Varnish after the national governing body board ruled she had been discriminated against, Press Association Sport understands.

Varnish's complaint of "inappropriate and discriminatory language" against former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton was upheld last October.

And the British Cycling board expressed "sincere regret" when the decision was announced.

However, Press Association Sport understands from a source close to Varnish that Browning was given the opportunity to apologise in person to the former Great Britain sprinter at a meeting in March and opted not to do so.

Browning instead pointed to his earlier apology, which did not refer to specific individuals.

"Where there are failings we apologise," Browning told the BBC in March.

British Cycling declined to comment, saying it had agreed with Varnish that the content of the meetings would remain confidential.

Varnish has not received an apology from anyone in British Cycling's senior leadership group, according to the source close to the 26-year-old.

The expression of "regret" last October is the closest the national governing body has come, the source added.

Browning's position as chairman has been questioned, with former Olympic and world champion Nicole Cooke agreeing with MP Damian Collins that change is needed at the top of the national governing body and world governing body UCI.

Cooke wrote on Twitter: "MP DamianCollins wants BC Chair Browning to go & UKSport to abandon their backing of UCI President Cookson. I agree."

British Cycling on Thursday night insisted reform is under way and that Collins' criticism is "ill-informed".

Collins called for Browning and UCI president Brian Cookson, who until September 2013 was British Cycling president, to leave their respective roles following the damning independent review into the Great Britain cycling team.

The investigation, led by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps whose findings were published on Wednesday, was critical of British Cycling, former technical director Sutton and funding agency UK Sport.

Cookson is standing for re-election in September. Browning was also on the British Cycling board during the period investigated, as a non-executive director before being elevated to chairman in February.

Varnish was dropped in April 2016, a decision attributed to performance data showing the track sprinter was no longer world-class.

However, Varnish's removal came shortly after she had criticised her coaches for inconsistent selections in the women's team sprint event which left her just short of qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

The shock of her exit, and Sutton's blunt comments about her no longer being worth funding, led her to tell the Daily Mail the Australian had used sexist language towards her and was responsible for the team's "culture of fear".

It was those allegations, coupled with claims of a similar nature from three other former riders, that led to an independent investigation into the "climate and culture" of British Cycling and an internal inquiry into Varnish's complaint against Sutton, who was suspended and promptly resigned.

The independent panel's report into the saga was highly critical of British Cycling and Sutton - but not as critical as an earlier draft from February, which was leaked to the Daily Mail in March.

Several allegations were removed from the draft, cutting its length by seven pages, and many of the sections about Sutton were more nuanced. This was a result of Sutton's response to the draft in a process known as Maxwellisation, which gives those criticised in reports the right to reply.

Press Association Sport has seen extracts of Sutton's response, in which he states that he "had reservations" about Varnish's removal from the team until he saw the performance data and denied that equipment was distributed on the basis of favouritism.

Varnish's lawyer Tom Barnard told Press Association Sport his client was "disappointed" by the report, particularly as she was not given the same opportunity to respond to criticism as Sutton and others, and was considering her legal options.

PA Media

The Left Wing: Leinster's weak point, Johann van Graan's future and Doris vs Deegan

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport