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Jess Varnish disappointed at losing tribunal but proud she helped create "a better and fairer environment" at British Cycling

“I’m happy I was the catalyst for other athletes to speak up and challenge their coaches and organisations”

Jess Varnish says she has no regrets about pursuing an employment tribunal as she believes a legal challenge was the only way to ensure improvements in athlete welfare at British Cycling and UK Sport.

Earlier this week, Varnish lost the employment case arising from when she was dropped from British Cycling’s Olympic programme in April 2016.

She argued that she had been in effect an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport, but the judge ruled that the deal was more akin to a university grant. Had he found in favour of Varnish, the verdict would most likely have had major ramifications for the way in which Olympic athletes are funded.

Referring to the investigation into the culture at British Cycling that came about following her complaints, Varnish said: “I knew at the beginning of the trial, no matter the outcome, that I had already won. I’m happy I was the catalyst for other athletes to speak up and challenge their coaches and organisations, to push for a better and fairer environment in which to excel.

“I’m glad that British Cycling, through their own internal, but never published, investigation, confirmed that I had been subjected to discrimination. I’m also glad that through this process they accepted they hadn’t paid sufficient care and attention to the wellbeing of athletes and that the handling of my case had been inept.

“I’m also glad that UK Sport found in their independent investigation that a culture of fear did exist, along with a ‘power pocket’ structure, lack of oversight and people holding positions for which they were unsuitable. A vindication I feel for the true and fair account I gave of my time at British Cycling.”

While conceding disappointment at the outcome, she went on to explain why she had no regrets.

“Despite meetings, mediation and attempts at settlement, it was clear that the only way to engage and ensure change occurred within these organisations was a legal challenge. There is no other option open to athletes.

“It took two leading barristers, a team of eight lawyers, a seven-day tribunal, close to £1million in legal fees and a proclamation that the ‘skies would fall in’ if the system was changed for British Cycling and UK Sport, to answer some simple questions posed by one athlete about the set-up of the World Class Performance System.”

She added: "The irony for me is, right at the beginning of this process, when I met with British Cycling, all I asked for was an apology and commitment to improve athlete welfare. Neither were given.

"I therefore hope that Julie Harrington [British Cycling chief executive] can reflect on how my situation was handled and ensure that no other athlete endure the same inept process.

“Also, with the recent appointment of British Cycling’s first Integrity & Compliance Director, Rod Findlay, I hope he ensures that Athletes have an outlet and process which will allow them to hold British Cycling employees to account for inappropriate behaviour and misuse of personal data.”

Varnish’s first child was due on Thursday and while she said she would consider appealing, her mind seems to have moved to other things.

“It has been a long three years, and it has cost me a lot, but as I said earlier, I have no regrets. I hold my head high knowing that I left no stone unturned and always told the truth. In that time, I’ve almost completed my degree in sports and exercise nutrition, set up my own personal training business and am now starting a family. I am excited about the future.

“I will be meeting with my legal advisors in the coming weeks to consider grounds for an appeal. I take this process seriously and will not appeal for appeal’s sake.”

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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Velovoyeur | 4 years ago

Undoubtdly, there will be lessons learned and improvements that come out of this process which will benefit all funded athletes. The outcome has made the relationship between sports governing bodies, funding providers and ahtletes perfectly clear. However, it won't change the fact that elite sport and performance at the top level is a brutal environment where only the most dedicated, capable, bloody minded and hard people survive. It is possible to build solid support networks around athletes and this is where attention needs to be paid but the spectre of loosing everything if you don't perform won't go away.

kil0ran | 4 years ago

Trailblazer in many ways - all this predates #MeToo and the current debate around masculinity (hello Gillette). Ubdoubted that her actions have changed UKSport for the better.

A family member was in another Elite Athlete programme and his experience was very different - he received absolutely first-class care for a back injury that could have left him paralysed. That was after winning a medal in 2012. 

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