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Seven days ago, the Telegraph reported that British track rider Jessica Varnish was dropped from the Olympic programme on performance grounds. In the article it was emphasized that this “had nothing to do with her criticism of the organisation at the recent track world championships in London,” referring to statements made by sprinters Varnish and Katy Marchant shortly after the world championship event, when they were critical of some of the British Cycling coaching staff, saying they felt they were being treated as kids.
Varnish added she “wouldn’t let people like this make me quit”, but didn’t really look forward to the prospect of putting her career “in these people’s hands” once again when working towards Tokyo 2020.
This was followed by an article in the Daily Mail, where Varnish spoke out even more and said British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton told her to “move on and get a baby” when she was being told she no longer was part of the Olympic programme.
British Cycling and Sutton published a statement on the British Cycling website, sticking to what they said before, that “the data did not justify Jess retaining a lottery-funded place on the podium programme as an athlete with medal potential in this Olympic cycle or the next.”
The story continues as Varnish published a reaction on her own website today, which we publish here in full, unedited:
“My contract was not renewed by British Cycling after the 2016 World Championships. I appealed the decision with the help of the British Athlete’s Commission and was unsuccessful. I received a termination email from Shane Sutton and within it it said that the door at British Cycling was always open if I met the criteria. He told me to prove him wrong. I asked for a meeting with Shane and Iain Dyer to discuss my data and the criteria but this was repeatedly declined. Despite this, and the comments made to me, I resolved to get my head down and continue training in the hope to show British Cycling that I was still good enough for Rio 2016 and beyond. To prove them wrong. I was also told by British Cycling that they did not comment publicly or announce when a rider’s membership isn’t renewed. I therefore made the decision not to discuss the decision publicly as well.
When Shane Sutton gave his interview to the Telegraph discussing my situation I was devastated. I wasn’t offered the chance to comment, I only found out about the interview once it had been published and he said in his interview that I was ’too old’ and ‘not worth wasting UK Sport’s money’. It was at this point that I realised my career with British Cycling, in Shane Sutton’s eyes, was over, and that I would never get a fair trial or opportunity to compete for Great Britain again while Shane is the performance director. There was no longer any point in staying quiet. He told everyone that my Rio 2016 dream was over before telling me. This is why I decided to speak out, I obviously no longer have anything to lose and can no longer trust Shane or those in charge at British Cycling to be fair.
The comment that Shane Sutton told me ’to go and have a baby’ is true. I stand by all my statements in the Daily Mail interview and have examples of other comments made to me during my time at British Cycling by Shane Sutton dating back many years.
I have been contacted by the HR Manager at British Cycling, following the Daily Mail article, but I am unsure as to what the purpose of the contact is. I have asked them to share with me the code of conduct they implement alongside the Athlete agreement we sign and also what processes are open to me as a member of British Cycling to pursue my complaints regarding Shane Sutton. I am awaiting their response.
I have been amazed by the response and support shown to me since the Daily Mail interview. I have been contacted by other riders both present and past, to say that they have experienced similar behaviour at British Cycling. I am aware that some people at British cycling are afraid to come forward due to the culture of fear that exists, as they don’t want to lose their jobs. I am not alone in my experience and I’m glad that a few feel more confident to speak up as a result of my interview.
With regards to my contract not being renewed on performance grounds, I find this very hard to accept. Prior to the 2016 World Championships I was not once told that I was underperforming. We have monthly reviews and at no stage was I put under review, or set performance targets to keep my place on the programme. The first I knew that the coaches had an issue with my performance levels was 5 days after the 2016 World Championships, when I was told I wouldn’t be getting a new contract over the phone.
During the 2 year Olympic qualifying process, I gained more qualifying points than any other British female sprint rider. I was consistently performing in the top 5 in the World for Lap 1 times in the Team Sprint, and I have also qualified Olympic places in the individual Sprint and Keirin. Since 2012 I have won medals at the World & European Championships and Commonwealth Games.
At 25 years old I feel my best years are ahead of me. Sprinters such as Jamie Staff, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy, all achieved success well into their thirties, so I refuse to believe that my career is finished.
I want a fair chance to compete for my country. I feel that chance is being denied to me unfairly. I also want to change the culture at British Cycling and their treatment of women. I hope that by shining a light on this culture, and sharing my experiences, the relevant people can investigate and make changes. If they do then this can only benefit all involved, who want to work hard and compete for Great Britain, in a safe and fair environment.
For now I remain open to sharing my experiences with both British Cycling and/or UK Sport, and will happily engage with any investigations into the comments that Shane Sutton has made to me, and other riders. I would prefer to do this privately, however to date this hasn’t been an option.
I also want to compete for Great Britain again. I am not too old. I am not a waste of UK Sport’s money. I can win more medals.