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"Fit to govern" ... ? British Cycling's leadership reportedly condemned by independent review

Report commissioned by funding agency UK Sport also said to highlight a "culture of fear" among country's top riders...

The independent review into British Cycling ordered in the wake of Shane Sutton’s resignation last year asks whether the organisation’s leadership is “fit to govern,” according to a draft of its report seen by the Daily Mail.

It is also said to highlight a “culture of fear” within the highest levels of the sport in this country, and is scathing of Sir Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton, the men credited with overseeing the country’s success over the past decade or so.

UK Sport, the government agency that provides the governing body with most of its funding, set up the independent review last year after Sutton resigned following allegations of bullying and discrimination.

The report was initially due to be published last autumn after the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games, but has been delayed in part because of the sheer number of people who came forward to testify.

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It is due to be published next month, although British Cycling has said that it received a draft copy in late December, and last week the governing body briefed riders and staff on its action plan to overhaul its procedures in response to the report’s findings.

Led by British Rowing chairman Annamarie Phelps, the independent review was ordered in the wake of allegations of bullying and discrimination by track sprinter Jess Varnish and multiple Paralympic champion Darren Kenny – stories that were both first broken by the Daily Mail.

The same newspaper was also first to report on the missed anti-doping controls that saw former road world champion Lizzie Armitstead risk a ban, and on the mystery medical package that has seen Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins come under intense scrutiny in recent months.

So, in stories about cycling at least, the newspaper – and chief sports writer, Matt Lawton, who wrote its latest report – have credibility.

The independent review is said to have found that British Cycling’s board “reversed” some of the findings of an internal investigation by its grievance officer into the allegations of discrimination made by Varnish against Sutton last year, and that it “sanitised” the subsequent report.

It describes the termination of Varnish’s funding on the Olympic programme as an “act of retaliation” for her criticism of Great Britain failing to qualify a women’s track sprint team for the Rio Olympics.

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Four months after Sutton’s departure, several gold medal-winning Team GB riders at Rio credited the Australian coach, who took on the role of Great Britain Cycling Team technical director in 2014 when Brailsford decided to concentrate full-time on Team Sky, as being the man behind their success.

According to the Daily Mail, that view was also shared by British Cycling’s management, with the newspaper saying that the independent review believes that the findings of the grievance officer were overridden because the British Cycling board wanted to reinstate Sutton due to his “innate ability to coach riders to medal-winning performances.”

The report is said to add: “The apparently deliberate reversal of the grievance officer’s draft outcome by the British Cycling Board gives every impression of it trying to achieve that aim.

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“The actions of the British Cycling Board in that regard are shocking and inexcusable. They also call into serious question whether the composition of the British Cycling Board is fit to govern a national sporting body.”

“Since the late 2000s cracks in terms of the climate and culture have been present. Instead of being repaired as they should have been, those cracks were ignored in pursuit of medal-success.”

The report of the independent review is said to be highly critical of British Cycling’s decision to make Sutton – described as having a “blunt and aggressive coaching style” – the de facto successor to Brailsford, despite earlier “allegedly unacceptable behaviour.”

It also says that some members of staff were “treated like children,” and says there was a "blurring of the boundaries” between the national team, and Team Sky.

The report apparently describes Brailsford as “untouchable,”and says that the environment at British Cycling, according to some elite cyclists, was “characterised by fear and bullying from leadership figures.”

The Daily Mail says that the independent review recommends that a “systematic overhaul” of leadership at the organisation, a process that has already begun with Bob Howden, who remains president, relinquishing his role as chair to be replaced by Jonathan Browning, and Julie Harrington confirmed earlier this week as replacing Ian Drake as CEO.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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