Review into British Cycling upholds claims over 'culture of fear'

The long-awaited independent review into British Cycling has been released, citing a 'culture of fear' within the body's World Class Programme. According to the report, some athletes said that they feared retribution or losing their jobs if they spoke out.

However, the report has been accused of being watered down, with much of the language altered and portions of it completely redacted from a leaked version.

The report had been due earlier this year but was delayed several times. A leaked version was made public by the Daily Mail in March and was heavily critical of a 'dysfunctional leadership' and 'lack of good governance' within British Cycling. However, certain elements perceived to be the most damning have been redacted in the final report.

The independent review was triggered after the allegations of sexism made against British Cycling technical director, Shane Sutton, by Jess Varnish. The leaked report had described the investigation into the allegations made by the former sprint rider as 'inept.' It also claimed that the initial BC report into the allegations had been 'sanitised' and "they also call into serious question whether the composition of the British Cycling Board is fit to govern a national sporting body".

The language of the final report has been toned down from that leaked draft. However, it did call into question the manner in which British Cycling dealt with the allegations and said that some did not come forward to speak as they did not feel that their grievances would be dealt with. It also stated that several staff members were given the impression that Sutton's departure from the governing body was a temporary one and that the body gave "the impression of it trying to achieve that aim".

In December 2016, British Cycling found that Sutton had used discriminatory language. However, it was later revealed that only one of Varnish's nine allegations were upheld. According to the independent review, "findings set out in the draft grievance investigation and conclusions of the grievance officer seen by the Panel before it was considered by the BC Board indicates that considerably more allegations were recommended to be found proven."

The report also stated that the manner in which Varnish had been removed from her position on the World Class Programme was 'poor' and did not follow the 'contract due process'. The panel found, however, that her removal from the programme was not an act of discrimination.

A power pocket

While watered down in parts, the report was heavily critical of Sutton and the perceived 'power pocket' that centred on him. It added that Sutton did not have the necessary skills to take on the role of technical director and that several athletes and staff members felt demoralised.

It also criticised Sutton's use of discriminatory language, particularly his use of the terms "wobblies" and "gimps" in reference to the para-athletes.

The report said that he did not use those terms directly towards the athletes "but would do so generally and he used those terms in a derogatory context, including adding the word 'fucking' before them. The use of such terms in that context was inappropriate."

With regards to Sutton's use of the terms 'sheilas' and 'bitches' when referring to female athletes, it said that they had found corroborative evidence that he had used the latter, though Sutton had denied it. While Sutton said that his use of 'sheilas' was a colloquialism, the report stated that some that contributed to the investigation felt uncomfortable with the way it was used, though others were not.

"The Panel was also of the view that SS is not a man who couches his language but, on the contrary, uses crude language at times," the report said.

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