The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) select committee is to question sports minister Tracey Crouch over what it perceives as ‘intimidation tactics’ towards Jessica Varnish. The matter relates to her case against British Cycling and UK Sport in which she is alleging sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.
If Varnish’s case is successful, it is likely to have major implications for all UK Sport-funded athletes. She argues that athletes should legally be classed as employees, which would among other things mean the agency was obliged to start paying pension and national insurance costs.
Yesterday we reported how UK Sport had applied for a strike-out order to have her case dismissed, and also for a costs order and a deposit order, which would have meant her assets being seized pending the case.
The power of strike-out is used sparingly by the courts – and only for plain and obvious cases. Similarly, costs and deposit orders are only granted when a case is considered weak.
A judge dismissed the applications on Monday, allowing Varnish to proceed towards an employment tribunal, but The Telegraph reports that Damian Collins MP, the chairman of the DCMS select committee, is nevertheless unhappy with the agency’s “heavy-handed” legal tactics.
UK Sport is answerable to Crouch and Collins said he would be pressing her on the issue when she appeared before the select committee.
“I think it is a form of intimidation to try to get Jess Varnish to drop the case,” he said. “If UK Sport had succeeded, it would have probably been impossible for Jess Varnish to continue.
“It’s pretty tragic that it’s come to this anyway, that Jess Varnish feels that the only option she has in order to pursue her grievance is to take them to court. But for UK Sport to respond in that heavy-handed way just shows how desperate things have become.
“Although the sports minister won’t be able to get involved in the details of the case, we’re quite interested in discussing with Tracey when she appears in front of the committee on Tuesday the ethics of UK Sport’s behaviour.”
British Cycling also had the option of submitting costs and deposit order applications against Varnish but did not do so.