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Sir Dave Brailsford says British Cycling is 'medallist' not sexist

Former British Cycling performance director warns against "over correcting" culture that saw Britain throw off "gallant loser" status...

In an article penned for The Times this weekend, Sir Dave Brailsford reflected on his time at British Cycling. The now-Team Sky boss also defends the culture he helped develop that has produced a generation of Olympic champions amid claims of bullying and sexism.

The piece goes into depth about the organisation's methods of handling relationships with coaches and athletes, the ruthless decisions that had to be made in the pursuit of world-best results, and reinforces claims that the organisation is not sexist.

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The article comes ahead of an independent review into British Cycling later this month after allegations made in 2016 from several female riders suggested that there is a culture of sexism and bullying within British Cycling.

Brailsford makes it clear in the article that he fears the review has the potential to "over-correct" British Cycling's culture and damage the country's continued cycling success.

Throughout the article, though, Brailsford highlights the high standards the organisation was trying to maintain, and how the decisions that were necessary to keep those standards high "put some people's noses out of joint."

But he insists that British Cycling isn't sexist, and that during his time the organisation constantly pursued equality, whether that was in pushing for equal numbers of events for men and women, or creating a female cycling team.

"We were not sexist, but we were definitely 'medallist,'" Brailsford said.

"That is why we pushed for equal number of male and female events so our elite female athletes could have the same maximum chance of success as their male counterparts.

"It is why British Cycling has won as many female medals as male ones since 2008."

Brailsford claimed that today we take our Olympic and Paralympic successes for granted, and that "20 years ago Britain was largely an Olympic nation of gallant losers."

>Read more: Sir Dave Brailsford defends the way he managed GB Cycling Team

The moment of change came when British Cycling introduced its Podium Only programme. Brailsford says that the organisation stopped investing in cyclists that would place 4th to 8th, and instead it only focused on cyclists who could appear on the world podium.

"If the gap for the British national champion to the world podium was too great they would not be selected for the World Championships. Simple as that"

There is a degree of understanding of the repercussions the ruthlessness of an elite policy like this in Brailsford's writing. He wrote that he knew "all this was hard for some to accept and it resulted in disappointment and resentment."

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The current Team Sky general manager specifically cited the necessity of the organisation's commitment to troublesome personalities in its bid to maximise the collective athletic abilities of its athletes.

"People are not machines and exceptional people often come with challenging personalities.

"In a winning environment, problematic behaviour can be exacerbated — but you either remove the talent, reducing the chances of winning, or try your best dispassionately to manage it and the conflict it can create. I always went for the latter, and still do.

"I know this put some people’s noses out of joint but my remit was to help make us the best in the world not simply support the best in Britain.

>Read more: Sir Dave Brailsford accused of presiding over culture of fear

"Elite sport is by definition not sport for all. It is edgy and it is difficult. There are fine lines between success and failure. Only the very few can make it.

"We dealt with the really tough, the totally selfish, victims, aggressors, the violent tempered, those with low self-esteem, those who changed with success in what could be a highly charged cocktail — especially when you are pushing performance to the limit.

"I think we did that while striving always to help, support and protect riders and staff equally."

Brailsford says that he stands by the work that British Cycling did during his tenure and that he is "proud of the success" the organisation achieved in helping 1.7 million more people enjoy cycling.

He does seem to be wary of the impending inquirey, though. But welcomes that more voices will finally be part of the discourse.

"Like any organisation we inevitably got some things wrong, but I believe we got much, much more right." Brailsford concludes. 

"Post facto scrutiny is to be welcomed but, equally, we should avoid applying a completely different set of standards and judgments to the events of the past.

"So by all means let’s have the debate in the coming weeks. There is always more that all of sport, beyond cycling, can learn and areas that can be improved.

"We should not shy away from it but in doing so let’s be careful not to over-correct."

"Elite sport is tough. You play by the rules. You play clean. You play with the right values. You treat people with respect. But you must also never forget you are playing to win."

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