Cookson defends Sutton over bullying claims, says he has a great respect for him

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Commenting on the bullying allegations made against former British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton, UCI president Brian Cookson has said that the Australian is someone he has a lot of respect for.

“I always found Shane Sutton to be a very competent and experienced coach, very successful,” he told media at the Santos Tour Down Under. “I think in any organization you need a balance of individuals with different personalities. I think Shane has many very positive qualities. He’s a guy that I think many people trusted, found supportive, and got on very well with.

“Perhaps a number of people didn’t find his approach quite so comfortable, but many did, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating, in the medals that were secured. If you look around, for all of the people that said negative things about Shane, there are also people that said very positive things about Shane. He’s someone who I have a great respect for.”

In spring of 2016 Sutton faced allegations of sexism from BC rider Jess Varnish. The sprinter had previously been critical of the federation after she missed out on Olympic qualification, and was later dropped from the Olympic Podium Programme. Sutton insisted at the time that this was not payback for her criticism.

Varnish lodged a complain about Sutton, who also came under fire due to claims that he had referred to members of the Paralympic team as ‘gimps’ and ‘wobblies.’

He said that he was confident that he would be cleared, but resigned his position.

On October 28th British Cycling’s board announced the result of its investigation. It dismissed most of Varnish’s complaints, but found that he had used ‘inappropriate and discriminatory language.’

Both he and Varnish expressed disappointment with the outcome, and have lodged appeals.

Cookson was president of British Cycling from 1997 to 2013. He was asked this week if he had seen any evidence of the allegations that Sutton had faced.

“No, not at all,” he answered. “Any sport can be an uncomfortable place to be. It’s results orientated. I don’t want to comment on any individual or situation, but as far as I was concerned, there was a good balance there.

“People respected their responsibilities toward other people. In terms of what was reported to me, as president and chairman of the board, I was always satisfied that everyone was taking their responsibilities seriously.”

Cookson was asked to clarify what he meant by the term ‘uncomfortable.’ He said that the competitive world of sport was highly selective.

“When you start off in elite sport, you start off with a large number of talented individuals at a young age. And at every stage thereafter, there is not only success, there is also some rejection built in. Frankly, some people… it’s human nature, we don’t like rejection. We look for other reasons some time.

“If you start out with 100 athletes, and only one or two of them is selected for the Olympic Games, and that’s based on their medal potential, then there are going to be a lot of disappointed people. That is one of the characteristics that is built into sport.”

The allegations of bullying against Sutton plus the general culture within British Cycling are currently being assessed by an independent review.

Also see: Cookson: I’d be very surprised, but very disappointed, if Sky and Wiggins crossed ethical lines [click here].

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