Senior figures at the government funding body UK Sport are said to have told its in-house governance unit to “go easy” on British Cycling because “that’s where the medals come from.” A senior source told the Guardian: “No one wanted to disrupt the medal factory. It had the status of a special sport.”
It has been suggested that UK Sport should take some of the responsibility for the ongoing controversies at British Cycling given that it oversees the elite performance system.
In a statement earlier this month, the organisation rejected this, saying: “Our no-compromise approach has never been about winning at all costs. Any sport, CEO or performance director who thinks otherwise has fundamentally missed the point. There is no place in our system for unethical or unprofessional conduct."
However, the Guardian source claims that UK Sport was deliberately hands-off in how it dealt with British Cycling specifically because of the sport’s ability to produce medal-winners.
“With cycling, the UK Sport governance team felt they couldn’t ever go firm on them on any issue because they would come under pressure from the performance guys if they started poking around too much. No one wanted to disrupt the medal factory. It had the status of a special sport.”
In a statement, UK Sport responded: “We completely refute the allegation that senior figures in our performance team did not want anything to get in the way of the people deemed to be delivering the medals. This is simply not the case. It is widely known within the high performance system that the Mission process includes a focus on athletes, system and climate.”
UK Sport’s performance department was led by Simon Timson in the run up to Rio and the director is said to have been so obsessed with beating the London 2012 tally of 65 Olympic and 120 Paralympic medals that “66/121” became almost a mantra.
David Cole, the chief operating officer of UK Sport, is said to have felt that the pursuit of medals was given higher priority than scrutiny of national governing bodies.
While backing UK Sport’s position that it did not know about problems within British Cycling between 2012 and 2016, the draft version of the independent review into the culture of British Cycling is also reported to be critical of UK Sport in places, saying it “did not dig deep enough into the cultural reality of the World Class Performance Programme.”