Leaked report questions if British Cycling's board is 'fit to govern'

Leaked report questions if British Cycling's board is 'fit to govern'
Shane Sutton. Picture: PA

British Cycling board members made a "shocking and inexcusable" decision to reverse findings of an investigation into technical director Shane Sutton, it was reported today.

The Daily Mail, citing a leaked draft copy of an independent review, said an inquiry led by British Cycling's grievance officer Alex Russell found "considerably more" than one of the nine claims against Sutton by former track star Jess Varnish could be proven.

It emerged in December that Australian Sutton had been found guilty of one count of using inappropriate language but that insufficient evidence could be found to support eight other charges.

The ruling upset both Sutton, who has denied bullying athletes, and Varnish.

Varnish's hopes of qualifying for the Rio Olympics in the team sprint were ended at the Track World Championships in London last March.

Her funding was not renewed a month later, and Varnish reacted by claiming Sutton told her to "go and have a baby", among other sexist remarks, which led to further allegations of bullying and derogatory language made by other riders against the team's most senior coach.

The independent review into the culture of British Cycling's world-class performance programme has been led by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps.

According to the Daily Mail, the leaked draft review shows British Cycling's board looked to change the results of Russell's investigation in an effort to keep the highly successful Sutton on board.

"The apparently deliberate reversal of the grievance officer's draft outcome by the British Cycling board gives every impression of it trying to achieve that aim," the report says, according to the Mail.

"The actions of the British Cycling board in that regard are shocking and inexcusable. They also call into serious question whether the composition of the British Cycling board is fit to govern a national sporting body."

The independent review also casts doubt on the justification for denying Varnish continued funding, the Mail said.

The newspaper quotes the panel as concluding: "In the situation involving Jess Varnish the panel did not find explanations convincing from coaching staff that she could go from being a borderline Olympian (in fact, potentially an Olympic medallist) to not being good enough . . . within a week.

"An athlete would have to have been given a warning and also a reasonable period to improve before removal. Varnish was not given a warning or any period of time to improve. She was simply removed."

Sutton resigned in April 2016, and the leaked review reportedly indicates British Cycling had been acting irresponsibly for many years.

According to the newspaper, former performance director Sir Dave Brailsford became an "untouchable" figure at the organisation. Brailsford is now in charge of Team Sky.

The review says, according to the Mail: "Since the late 2000s, cracks in terms of the climate and culture have been present. Instead of being repaired as they should have been, those cracks were ignored in pursuit of medal success."

In response to the review's findings, British Cycling said in a statement: "All stakeholders now accept that the world class programme leadership focused on athlete performance and medal delivery without sufficient care and attention to the overall staff and athlete culture and environment."

It added: "British Cycling leadership did not have adequate oversight and control of the world class programme and consequently failed to adequately grasp and subsequently address the early warning signs."

The Phelps-led review was commissioned by British Cycling and the Government funding agency UK Sport.

British Cycling added that it would take on board the points raised.

It added: "Despite the fact the board of British Cycling may disagree with the factual accuracy of certain points or commentary in the draft independent review, it has chosen to embrace the recommendations and findings and to use these to continue to develop its operating practices with clear, timed actions."

The claims against British Cycling come at a time when it is already under intense scrutiny.

Damian Collins MP, the chairman of the Culture Media and Sport select committee, said last week that the organisation's credibility was "in tatters".

The governing body, based at the Manchester Velodrome, has been criticised by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) for failing to keep proper records of drugs given to riders.

Its doctor, Richard Freeman, is at the centre of UKAD's investigation into the contents of a Jiffy bag delivered to Team Sky at the end of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.

Brailsford has said he was told the package contained the legal decongestant Fluimucil, but as yet no documentary evidence has been produced.

Controversy has also dogged retired former star rider Bradley Wiggins since Russian hackers Fancy Bears revealed documents last September which showed he received TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) for triamcinolone to coincide with his three biggest races in 2011, 2012 and 2013 - including his victory in the 2012 Tour de France.

Wiggins received the treatment to deal with a pollen allergy and has denied any wrongdoing.

The British Cycling board has seen significant change at the top this year, with Bob Howden succeeded as chairman by former Jaguar managing director Jonathan Browning.

Howden has moved to the role of president, while former Football Association group operations director Julie Harrington has become British Cycling's new chief executive, replacing Ian Darke.

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