Investigation into bullying claims tones down earlier criticism
THE long-awaited review into bullying claims in the GB cycling team isn’t a whitewash, its chair insisted yesterday after it was finally published.
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.
It strongly criticises British Cycling’s board, former technical director Shane Sutton and funding agency UK Sport.
But 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 accused the 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.”
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.
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.
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.