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Julie Harrington: “I strongly believe you can have a great culture and still focus on really high performance"...

Complaints of sexism from Jess Varnish were the catalyst for change at British Cycling, according to chief executive Julie Harrington.

Performance Director Shane Sutton resigned last year, accused of using inappropriate and discriminatory language towards Varnish.

An independent investigation spoke of a “culture of fear”, “dysfunctional leadership” and the “inept” handling of allegations .

In her first interview since taking on the role in May, Harrington told the Guardian “it wasn’t institutional failings at British Cycling, it was a hell of a lot of people doing good stuff, just crying out for leadership and change.”

“A dozen years ago this organisation had turnover of a couple of hundred thousand pounds,” she said. “To go from that over a few Olympic cycles to tens of millions it needed energy, enthusiasm and charismatic personalities. What it hadn’t had was somebody joining dots and it needed some basic good practice.

“There were serious duty of care failings. As a national governing body we have a duty of care to our athletes obviously to look after them but also to riders that if there’s a suspicion of doping to be able to show the record-keeping.

“That’s not about watching our own back, it’s about great practice and never having a question mark over these athletes. We have a duty of care for their health and medical wellbeing but their reputation as well.”

Harrington comes from a background as group operations director at the FA.

She has recently spent time with Varnish, who is considering legal action against British Cycling and UK sport.

She said: “I wasn’t here at the time of Varnish but an investigation should be approached in a way that is about doing the right thing rather than approaching it from a paradigm of how do we make this go away.

“Certainly Jess having the courage to speak out has been the catalyst for change. I really enjoyed meeting her and what I don’t want is someone who has represented our country – but also who I’d credit with being a catalyst for this change – having a bad taste in her mouth.

“Stephen Park is on record saying if she makes the required times she’s more than welcome back into the team. Clearly it wouldn’t be easy but we would smooth that journey.”

“I strongly believe you can have a great culture and still focus on really high performance. People confuse culture with a love-in. It’s actually about people having the confidence to challenge each other. You can do that and still win.”

 

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.