Jess Varnish has spoken out against British Cycling after being dropped from the Olympic programme, claiming she was told by technical director Shane Sutton that she was too old and that she should "move on and go and have a baby".
In an interview with the Daily Mail, the 25-year-old sprinter described the fall-out surrounding her contract not being renewed, and also criticised the culture at British Cycling, saying she has "a list as long as my arm about comments I've had about my figure".
British Cycling issued a statement in response in which they insisted that Varnish's exclusion from the programme was solely performance related, while Sutton denied acting with anything other than "complete professionalism".
Varnish ruffled feathers in the British camp when she publicly criticised the coaching set-up at the Track World Championships in London last month. She and Katy Marchant could only mange fifth in the team sprint, meaning they didn't qualify for the Olympic Games, and Varnish attributed a portion of the blame to some of the past selection decisions.
"[Head coach] Iain Dyer heard my interview and he shouted, 'This is bullshit, Jess'," Varnish told the Daily Mail, revealing that she was dropped from an upcoming training camp at late notice and then summoned for a meeting. "I asked what the meeting was about and within two minutes over the phone he [Dyer] told me I was no longer part of the programme because my performance wasn't good enough."
Varnish, who claims she was never made aware she wasn't hitting her targets, says she asked to see her performance data, only for her relationship with the coaching staff to deteriorate.
"I contacted members of staff to collect it but before I could get any, Shane phoned me and said, 'How dare I call his staff' for my information. A meeting we had scheduled to further explain why my contract hadn't been renewed was cancelled."
It was when Varnish returned to the Manchester velodrome to collect belongings of her boyfriend Liam Phillips, a BMX rider, that she encountered Sutton in person and was allegedly told to "have a baby".
"I saw Shane and Iain and asked if I could have some of the information. They couldn't give it to me and said I'd been on the programme too long, that I was too old at the age of 25. Shane said that I should just move on and go and have a baby.
"Don't get me wrong, the boys don't get it easy, but I can't imagine him saying something to one of the men about their body shape or telling them to go off and have a baby."
Aside from the comments in that particular incident, Varnish says she has "a list as long as my arm about comments I've had about my figure" in the past.
"After 2012 I was told that, 'with an ass like mine I couldn't change position within the team sprint'," she said. "I see things that are right and wrong and have done since I was in reception class and there are things going on in British Cycling that are wrong.
"It would have made my life a lot easier if I'd just gone in there every day and just said 'yes' to everything they said. I take my hat off to people who can do that but I don't want to give up my personality and my morals to be on that team. It's not worth it."
British Cycling and Sutton respond
British Cycling issued a statement in response to Varnish's allegations in which they insisted the decision to drop the rider was made purely on sporting grounds and in which Sutton had the opportunity to respond personally.
"I wholeheartedly deny that I said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism in my dealings with Jess," said Sutton.
"As with all other riders on the track programme, she was subject to a performance review following the worlds and 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."
British Cycling noted that Varnish had never before raised any concerns about sexism and they promised to reach out to her to go through the issues she has raised.
"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," read the 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."
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