British Cycling riders will not be prevented from consulting former technical director Shane Sutton, according to his replacement at the governing body Stephen Park. In an interview with the Telegraph, Park, who was appointed at the new technical director last December said it would be remiss of him not to ‘engage’ with his predecessor.
"Shane doesn't work for British Cycling at the moment. But equally, nobody's sending any messages to riders or staff saying they shouldn't communicate with him,” Park told the Telegraph. "Shane is clearly well respected for his coaching abilities, and he's got an incredible track record. So, it would be silly for me not to have some level of engagement with him, if that's possible and he's willing to do that.”
Sutton was part of the British Cycling set-up from 2002 after a stint as a coach with Welsh Cycling. In 2014, when Dave Brailsford stepped down from the position, he was promoted from performance director to technical director. Park understands that familiarity will be important for riders after spending much of their career with Sutton.
"We've got other great coaches. The reality is time does move on in every sport. So for a lot of riders that might well be the case, and for riders that have worked with any individual over an extended period of time, they'll probably go back and refer back to them,” said Park.
After two years as technical director, Sutton was suspended from his role in April last year and resigned soon afterwards following allegations of sexism and bullying. Despite that, several athletes did continue to consult him in the build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio. An independent investigation was launched in the aftermath, and though the official publication of the report has been delayed until May, a version of it was leaked earlier in the year.
The leaked version heavily criticised the manner of Sutton’s departure and claimed that the Australian had been receiving a salary that was higher than what it would have been had he stayed at British Cycling.
When asked if he might change his stance when the official report was finally published, Park said that it was possible but was not unequivocal. "I suppose anything's possible. And I suspect that because of some of the issues raised there will be certain riders who would choose not to do that. That's fine too. Nobody's suggesting they should do one or the other.”
Park joined British Cycling after 15 years with Royal Yachting Association (RYA), where he served as the Olympic Team Manager. He is also a former sailor and represented Great Britain at two Olympic Games. Park says that he is also unlikely to stop communicating with his former athletes at the RYA, and believes that Sutton may well feel the same about his former riders.
"I fully expect there will be sailors on the phone or sending me messages or texts looking for input or support over the next few months. I certainly am not proposing to respond saying 'I'm sorry, I don't work with sailing anymore, have a nice life,'” he said. "People who are actively involved in Olympic sport and have spent years of their time in Olympic sport, generally, they're keen to support the development of athletes in their chosen sport, whatever that is. They've sacrificed a lot of their own lives to support those of others. I don't think that's just going to stop for Shane necessarily, as it [won't] for me.
"I think the thing that will probably change that most, I suspect, is as and when he's involved with a competing cycling team, where he probably will feel he's conflicted. And that would probably be the thing that would be the biggest trigger to move that on."
Park was speaking at the Track World Championships, which is currently taking place in Hong Kong. After the opening day of action, Great Britain has secured their first medal with second in the scratch race for Elinor Barker.