Is British Cycling in danger of losing its gloss?

ON the day that Team GB’s kit for the Rio Games was showcased by some of Britain’s finest medal hopefuls, as the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill and Tom Daley posed for the cameras, British cyclists who have qualified for the Games might well have been forgiven for not posting any fashionable snaps of themselves on social media.

It was, in truth, hardly worth celebrating a bit of lavish Stella McCartney-designed lycra on the day that Shane Sutton, the technical director of British Cycling, resigned from his role – less than 100 days to go before the start of the Games in Rio.

After a long week in the media glare, the 58-year-old Australian, who took over from the retired talisman Sir Dave Brailsford, has been accused of making sexist and derogatory remarks about Jess Varnish and Paralympic cyclists respectively. The British Cycling board took the decision to suspend him on Wednesday after one paralympian, Darren Kenny, revealed that he heard members of the British disability team referred to as “gimps”.

Jess Varnish, in light of narrowly missing out on Rio qualification last week, spoke out about the sexism that she had supposedly received from Sutton, who allegedly told her to “go and have a baby” and made comments about her body shape, sparking heated reactions from fellow GB cyclists. Fellow Olympian Victoria Pendleton – who partnered Varnish in London 2012 – and Nicole Cook, the 2008 road race champion, both individually criticised British Cycling subsequent to Varnish’s revelations. Pendleton mounted an attack, claiming in The Daily Telegraph that she never felt as “respected” as her male peers whilst racing, and revealed that British Cycling had made her “miserable” for years, whilst Cooke said she could “sympathize” with Varnish.

Sutton said that allegations against him had “become a distraction” and he had stepped down “in the best interests of British Cycling”.

Whether Varnish’s claims are true or not, a grey shadow has, for now, been cast over British Cycling. The race now is not to immediately find a replacement director (although another Sir Dave Brailsford wouldn’t go amiss), but to establish why a 25-year-old female felt compelled to speak out about her experience in a sport which, although ostensibly male-orientated, has produced the stars who are currently on top of their game – particularly Laura Trott and Otley-born World Series 2016 leader Lizzie Armitstead.

Is this just a case of a grumpy girl who wants to kick up a fuss over failing to qualify for Rio and others who want to jump on the complaints’ bandwagon? Or does British Cycling have two serious cases to review? According to its chief executive, Sir Ian Drake, British Cycling is “not in crisis” despite Sutton’s departure. If it’s not in crisis, the sport which brought home Team GB eight golds in Beijing – a feat which it emulated in London four years ago – has suddenly found itself with a lot of questions to answer.

Fiona Tomas

Featured image: Future Sport 


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