What began as one lone voice has become a chorus, as top British athletes have come forward to support the allegations of sexism and discrimination made by sprinter Jess Varnish.
Allegations of sexism from female Olympians, and of discrimination from Paralympians have now led to the suspension of British Cycling’s Technical director Shane Sutton.
The newest remarks released are that Sutton called Paralympic athletes “gimps” as well as purposefully excluding top class female athletes from competition, whilst less competitive men were entered to events.
As well as Sutton’s suspension, the strength of criticism made against British Cycling has led them to release a statement of impending action.
In a brief message published yesterday evening, they stated:
“British Cycling is announcing the formation of an independent review, in conjunction with UK Sport, of the federation’s performance programmes following allegations of discriminatory behaviour.
“We are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity and we must take any such allegations seriously.
“The terms of the review will be announced in due course and no further comment will be made at this stage.”
Multiple sexism claims were made yesterday, but Sutton was not suspended until later – soon after reports came out that he had referred to Paralympic athletes as ‘wobblies’ and ‘gimps’.
Multiple paralympic medalist Darren Kenny is reported to have said: “We were tolerated at best. The term used to refer to us was generally “gimps”, with another word in front of that. I know others had an issue as well with not being allowed on the track and not being given time to prepare for competitions.”
The onslaught began with Jess Varnish’s comments that BC’s Technical Director Shane Sutton had told her to “go and have a baby” after she was cut from the Olympic Programme during her preparation for the Rio games.
The news that her contract was to be terminated came soon after she openly criticised BC’s management of the women’s Sprint squad. Sutton claimed the decision was made on the grounds of performance, though Varnish has asked for evidence of this.
Today, Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke offered their support for Varnish, with corroboratory comments.
Cooke wrote: “Welcome to the reality in the world of elite cycling where sexism is by design. Sexism spins all the way down from the top to the bottom”, whilst Pendleton told reporters: “I would not be able to live with myself if I sat back and let people try to discredit [Varnish’s] character. Not when I wholeheartedly believe her. My experiences [at British Cycling] were very similar. And I know exactly how miserable they made me.”
XC racer Jenny Copnall added further ammunition, recounting examples from her own career where women were marginalised and excluded from World Championship events.
Speaking of the 2007 World Championships at Fort William, she said: “BC did not select any senior women for the race, while selecting various male riders based on both domestic and international results.”
She added, after a detailed description of plans to enter her and pull her from a race: “Not only did BC not want any women to race at their home World Championships, they were prepared to break UCI rules to prevent that from happening.”
Current World Champion Lizzie Armitstead has also supported Varnish in her decision to speak up, saying: “Any athlete in her position has the right to say what she said. She’s worked so hard to be in the position she’s in and to have that taken away from her, if she feels that it’s unjust, then she should speak out about it.”
Those still working on Track Programmes with BC have been less critical, however. Team Persuit rider Jo Rowsell Shand told us yesterday: “We have so many world class staff working for our medal. So I haven’t got any complaints [of sexism] in that sense.”
All this is taking place with just 100 days to go until the games in Rio begin. British Cycling will not release more information until the terms of the review are confirmed.