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Damning report into British Cycling culture published

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British Cycling’s “single-minded pursuit” of winning medals contributed to a “culture of fear” experienced by many athletes in its World Class Programme, an independent report has revealed.

The report, which investigated the climate and culture within the national governing body between 2012 and 2016, laid bare a number of issues including a “lack of good governance” at board level and the “untouchable” status of those running the World Class Programme.

It also shone the spotlight on UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ approach to funding, claiming that much of the negative culture engulfing British Cycling stemmed from the pursuit of success ahead of “addressing behavioural issues” within the World Class Programme.

“The central pursuit of winning medals and derived National Lottery funding from UK Sport meant that the addressing of cultural and behavioural issues in the World Class Programme which were known since late 2012 was not prioritised,” said the report.

Many of the athletes interviewed for the report referenced a fear of retribution or losing their careers if instructions delivered by World Class Programme hierarchy were not adhered to or challenged.

According to the report – which was put together by a group headed up by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps – some interviewees became “emotional” and “distressed” when recounting their experiences.

Words such as “sheila” and “bitches” were used by former technical director Shane Sutton to reference female competitors according to testimonies given, while para athletes were called “fucking gimps” or “wobblies”.

However, one interview said that Sutton could be “equally harsh to everybody” regardless of gender and the report found that language was not used in a discriminatory, but derogatory, way.

Damningly, the document revealed that structural recommendations delivered by an internal 2012 report were “not acted upon with necessary haste of focus” by the British Cycling board.

The 2012 report also found that several athletes referred to a “culture of fear, intimidation and bullying”.

Jonathan Browning, who joined British Cycling as chair in February 2017, said the under fire organisation “accepts in full” the findings and recommendations of the report.

The most prominent recommendation was the need to change the leadership within the organisation. Part of that work has been down, with Browning replacing Bob Howden and Julie Harrington coming in as chief executive after Ian Drake stepped down last October.

He said changes in leadership and governance were to be followed by programmes “professionalising” the governing body and increasing transparency.

A 39-point plan will be British Cycling’s reference point for improvement, and its ability or inability to adhere to this plan will has ramifications for its UK Sport funding bid.

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British Cycling’s “single-minded pursuit” of winning medals contributed to a “culture of fear” experienced by many athletes in its World Class Programme, an independent report has revealed.
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UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl (left), independent review chair Annamarie Phelps (centre) and British Cycling chair Jonathan Browning (right) / Steven Paston/PA Wire/PA Images
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