Jess Varnish: British cyclist wants to resume career after Shane Sutton controversy

Jessica Varnish and Shane Sutton

Shane Sutton (right) pushes Varnish off the start line at the 2011 European Championships

Track cyclist Jess Varnish has not given up hope of resuming her career, according to her lawyer.

Varnish, 26, was dropped from British Cycling’s elite programme last April, after which former technical director Shane Sutton was found to have used sexist language towards her.

Sutton was later cleared of eight of nine allegations.

However, lawyer Simon Fenton told BBC Sport that Varnish now “wants the possibility of winning gold medals”.

He also described Varnish’s attempts to discover why she was dropped from British Cycling’s elite programme as “incredibly frustrating”.

And he was critical of British Cycling, saying the governing body had been “anything but open”.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating,” said Fenton. “We’ve had so much back from them late and heavily redacted.

“We wanted to know why she was hoofed off the Olympic podium programme and they’re claiming confidentiality as a reason for not telling us.

“If we want to force disclosure we now have to take legal proceedings, but British Cycling’s pockets are a lot deeper than Jess’.

“We believe the information is in there somewhere which says that she was not taken off the programme for performance reasons, but because she spoke out.”

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‘We believe the information is in there’

In December, Varnish demanded the release of her personal data to try to understand why an internal review had reached their decisions about her case.

British Cycling had found that Sutton had used the word “bitches” to Varnish, but the rest of her allegations – including a claim that he told her to “go and have a baby” – were not upheld.

Varnish said she was “shocked and upset” by British Cycling’s decision on the majority of her complaints.

Under the Data Protection Act, she requested access to text messages and British Cycling’s report into Sutton’s conduct.

In a statement given to BBC Sport, British Cycling said they had “complied” with that request.

They added: “The board put on record its sincere regret that this happened and are committed to ensuring the findings of the investigation will help the development of the organisation alongside the independent review into the culture of the World Class Programme.”

‘This looked rushed’


Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton raced in the team sprint at London 2012

Varnish raced alongside Victoria Pendleton in the team sprint at London 2012, but failed to qualify for Rio 2016.

The World Championships medallist said that bosses at cycling’s governing body were to blame for her and Katy Marchant not securing a team sprint spot at the Games. She added that their chances had been compromised by decisions over selection.

She was dropped from British Cycling’s elite programme in April with Sutton telling the Daily Telegraph at the time that “there is no point carrying on and wasting UK Sport’s money on someone who is not going to medal going forward”.

Sutton resigned in April last year, after being suspended pending the investigation, but has always denied wrongdoing.

“From reading what we have been sent, we have the impression that there were not sufficient performance reasons to remove her and that to other riders it was a surprise and looked like a political removal,” added Fenton.

“Normally when people are taken off the programme, it’s done in a structured way. This looked rushed.

“She wants to make sure no-one else goes through what she went through without any due process or warning.”

‘Action plan’ of reforms

Fenton’s comments come as British Cycling prepares to brief riders and staff about an ‘action plan’ of reforms following concerns over the culture at its performance programme.

After Varnish’s claims of a ‘culture of fear’ were supported by other former riders, British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps was asked to lead an independent investigation into claims of bullying, favouritism and sexism.

Her report – described by one senior source as “explosive” – is due to be published in the next month.

On 21 February, the head of UK Sport, Liz Nicholl, accused British Cycling of watering down the full findings of an internal review conducted after the 2012 Games.

UK Sport has faced questions over why it did not act on a report that is known to include allegations of bullying.