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Judge must decide whether UK Sport grants constitute contracts of employment

Jess Varnish’s wrongful dismissal case is self-interest not public interest and could lead to "the skies falling in" for UK Sport according to the lawyer representing British Cycling.

Varnish, who was dropped from the national squad in April 2016 and claims she was unfairly discriminated against, is seeking to establish that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport when she received funding, rather than being an independent contractor.

If her claim is successful, UK Sport would potentially have to pay National Insurance and pensions contributions for athletes and also cover backdated claims. It’s been reported that this could lead to hundreds of UK Sport-funded athletes seeing a reduction in their grants.

A verdict had been expected on Monday, but the BBC reports that the judge has now said she will make her judgement within 28 days and will "strive to get it out by mid-January."

Varnish has accused British Cycling of exercising “extreme control” over her and other athletes – claims that have been backed by her partner, former BMX world champion Liam Phillips and also Dr Richard Freeman, the doctor at the centre of the Team Sky Jiffy bag controversy.

On Friday, British Cycling's barrister, Thomas Linden QC, accused Varnish of dealing in half-truths.

"This is a case of the highest public interest and extremely important to athletes, sport and the funding bodies, so it is vital a true and fair picture is presented.

"What we have witnessed here is the difference between self-interest and the public interest. For good or ill we have presented the facts – I am not sure I am able to say the same of the claimant."

Linden said Varnish had "gravely misrepresented" her coaches before going on to reframe the assertion of her lawyer, David Reade QC, that athletes had been treated like schoolchildren.

"They were schoolchildren," said Linden. "We all went to school, we wore school uniform, we were disciplined if we broke the rules and our results affected the school's funding.

"But nobody would say they worked for their school or, as they progressed through the system, for their university."

Reade disagreed. "This is truly a contract that's not simply about education and training, it's about mutual benefit and achieving international medals and success," he argued.

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