Review chair denies 'whitewash' after delivering diluted report into British cycling

The chair of the much-delayed review into claims of bullying and discrimination within the Great Britain cycling team has denied the report has been toned down.

Written by a five-strong panel led by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps, the report was commissioned 14 months ago following allegations made by ex-GB track sprinter Jess Varnish and several other former riders.

The report, published on Wednesday, has strongly criticised British Cycling's board, former technical director Shane Sutton and funding agency UK Sport.

However, the report's language, and some of its conclusions, are significantly diluted from a more damning draft that was written at the end of February.

That draft, which Press Association Sport has seen, was leaked to the Daily Mail in March and accused the British Cycling board of being "dysfunctional", "inept" and effectively covering up an internal investigation into Varnish's claims last year.

That section in the final report is much altered, although the central message is still that the panel believes the board mishandled the case and failed to follow "contractual due process".

"I don't believe it's a whitewash," Phelps told a press conference in London.

"I think it's quite a strong report with very strong recommendations and very strong criticisms.

"I don't think there's a shift in tone. I think we've been as strong. We've changed some of the wording.

"The panel collectively looked at the wording very carefully before we decided on a final version."

Based on more than 100 contributions from current and former riders and staff, the independent report says a "culture of fear" existed within the team, "good governance was lacking" at British Cycling and Sutton operated within a "power pocket" without real oversight.

Former technical director Shane Sutton.
Former technical director Shane Sutton.

Published alongside the independent review was the King Review, which reported in November 2012, but was not made publicly available.

UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl admits that had the funding agency pursued then British Cycling chief executive Ian Drake for the full report back then, rather than rely on his summarised version, recent events might have been avoided.

"It's a missed opportunity," Nicholl said.

"We were unsighted on a full copy of the King report. We should've pursued that and acquired a copy of it.

"I trusted that was the full and frank disclosure."

Varnish's camp will be disappointed by the amended language. Varnish has already started legal action to obtain more information about why she was dramatically cut from the GB squad last April - the event which triggered this remarkable saga for British sport's most successful team.

Overall, the final report is seven pages shorter than the incendiary draft report, which caused considerable panic within British Cycling and UK Sport, and is undoubtedly the result of a strong lobbying effort from senior figures within the sport who felt the initial assessment was far too harsh.

There are also more references to UK Sport's failure to properly monitor what was happening within the Manchester-based Olympic and Paralympic cycling set-up, which will lead to important questions about the organisation's famous "no compromise" approach, which links funding to medal potential.

Nicholl added: "Any suggestion that UK Sport is about a winning-at-all-costs approach is frankly disturbing and it's wrong. It never has been and it never will be."

British Cycling, on the other hand, will probably breathe a sigh of relief about Phelps' final assessment, particularly as it can say it has started to implement all of her recommendations for change.

British Cycling chairman Jonathan Browning said: "Since the findings were shared with us we've rapidly made major changes to the WCP (world class programme) and to our leadership operations and governance, so we can ensure that British Cycling learns the lessons and becomes a world class governing body.

"The action plan I announced in March goes beyond the recommendations of the CIR (cycling independent review).

"We've identified 39 areas for immediate action, covering governance, leadership and management, culture, athlete whole-life development and welfare and best practice in operational delivery and performance management.

"We are determined to learn the lessons and move forward, ensuring effective and accountable leadership that fosters a transparent and inclusive culture."

Following publication of the report, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch issued a statement which said: "Duty of care towards athletes and good governance in sport is of the utmost importance.

"We welcome the independent panel's report and it is right that British Cycling and UK Sport implement its recommendations and ensure the welfare of athletes is put first.

"We want first class governance from all sports bodies - that is why we have made public funding conditional on adherence to the code for sports governance."

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