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British Cycling review panel denies serving up a whitewash

The review found that many WCP staff members referred to a 'culture of fear'. Credit: PA

When you remove a word like “sanitise” referring to how British Cycling presented an investigation into bullying, when “inept” disappears from an assessment of how that case was handled and when your initial conclusion, questioning whether the Board was “fit to govern” is missing, you can’t be surprised if you find yourself denying you’ve served up a whitewash.

That’s what happened on Wednesday morning to Annamarie Phelps, the chair of a much anticipated independent review into a culture of bullying at Britain’s most successful Olympic Sport.

It was sparked by serious allegations from rider Jess Varnish aimed at former technical director Shane Sutton.

The review into bullying was sparked by allegations made by Jess Varnish. Credit: PA

Yes, similar content is there if you look for it, but the tone is very different.

The final version smells like a lawyer’s, compared to the headline-grabbing tabloid style of the leaked draft.

“I don’t believe it’s a whitewash,” Ms Phelps said.

“I think it’s quite a strong report...with very strong criticisms.”

Those are mainly aimed at Shane Sutton, the former Technical Director and the British Cycling Board.

The review into the World Class Programme (WCP) concluded that:

  • Many WCP staff members referred to a “culture of fear” in terms of retribution or losing employment
  • Shane Sutton who effectively ran the WCP had a perceived power pocket centred on him
  • Although Sutton has an innate ability to coach riders to medal-winning performances, the Panel heard from numerous contributors that he did not possess the necessary skill-set to lead the WCP
The report's criticisms were mainly directed at former technical director Shane Sutton. Credit: PA

On the investigation into Varnish’s allegations, the Panel said the British Cycling Board appeared to want to control the outcome.

In other words, change then sugar coat it.

“Taking into account that some members of the BC Board wanted Shane Sutton back 'if fully vindicated', the rejection of the grievance investigator’s findings by the BC Board gives the impression of it trying to achieve that aim.”


A leaked copy of the findings against Sutton showed the Board decided only one of 9 allegations were proved, overruling recommendations that many more should be upheld.

Also released on Wednesday was the King report from 2012.

Its contents are astonishing in that, as expected, they too reveal a culture of “fear, intimidation and bullying” overseen by the most “bizarre management structure.”

It appears the same issues have been festering for five years, issues that could have been addressed shortly after the London Olympics.

Instead British Cycling buried them and UK Sport which funds the sport failed to pick up on any red flags that might have led to an earlier investigation.

Phelp’s panel also found that the pursuit of medals and the funding that came with them, contributed to not prioritising the known cultural and behavioural issues.

UK Sport Chief Executive Liz Nicholl. Credit: PA

On that, UK Sport’s Liz Nicholl said on Wednesday that “any suggestion that our policy is about winning at all costs is frankly disturbing and wrong. It never has been and never will be".

With more than one third of funded Olympic programmes now juggling with internal inquiries or at least multiple complaints from their athletes, whatever the reality of her philosophy, it’s quite clear it’s one that needs urgent attention - across all sports.