Thursday 26 April 2018

British Cycling rocked by dropped sprinter's claims she was told to 'get on with having a baby'

Jess Varnish said she had been subject to sexism. Getty
Jess Varnish said she had been subject to sexism. Getty

Will Worley

Cycling’s governing body has insisted former Olympic hopeful Jessica Varnish was dropped from Britain’s team for entirely sporting reasons amid uproar over her claims that officials made comments about her figure and told her to “get on with having a baby”.

In an interview, Varnish, 25, painted a picture of a deeply misogynistic culture within the upper echelons of the sport, which has become a jewel in Britain’s sporting crown in recent years following the success of stars like Sir Bradley Wiggins, who became Britain’s first Tour de France winner in 2012, Mark Cavendish, who won the sprinters’ Tour de France title in 2011, and double Olympic gold medallist Laura Trott.

Varnish’s contract was not renewed by governing body British Cycling earlier this month on what it said were “performance grounds”.

The move raised a few eyebrows at the time as it came soon after the Team GB sprinter made scathing remarks about her coaches’ strategies during the women’s sprint team’s failed bid to secure a place at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

But the controversy took a further twist when she alleged she had been told she was “too old” and should “move on and get on with having a baby” by Shane Sutton, technical director at British Cycling, not long after she was informed her Olympic dreams were effectively over. Mr Sutton said he “wholeheartedly” denied the claims.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Varnish also said that she had been subjected to frequent comments about her “ass” during her time on the squad which made her feel “uncomfortable” within the strongly male environment of the team.

“I’ve got a list as long as my arm about comments I’ve had about my figure and it’s not right,” she added.

“I can’t imagine him (Mr Sutton) saying something to one of the men about their body shape or telling them to go off and have a baby.”

Her remarks prompted British Cycling to insist it was “fully committed” to equality of opportunity, adding that it was willing to “discuss her concerns in full”.

The organisation maintained the decision not to renew Varnish’s contract was solely down to her cycling.

“Following a post-world championships review of every rider on the track programme, the decision was made not to renew Jess's place based on performances in training and competition, and on a projection of capability for a medal in Tokyo. The decision was upheld by a review panel following an appeal by Jess,” it said in a statement.

“At no point in the performance review or the appeal process did Jess raise concerns about sexism, or any other form of discriminatory behaviour, in the Great Britain Cycling Team.

“However, we are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity. As such, we treat any such allegations with the utmost seriousness and we will be contacting Jess to offer to discuss her concerns in full.”

Mr Sutton also insisted the decision to drop Varnish was down to her performance.

“I wholeheartedly deny that I said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism in my dealings with Jess,” he said, adding that she had been a “great athlete to work with”.

“As with all other riders on the track programme, she was subject to a performance review following the worlds [championships].

“The data did not justify Jess retaining a lottery-funded place on the podium programme as an athlete with medal potential in this Olympic cycle or the next.”

Independent News Service

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