Nine months after taking up the role, Jonathan Browning is to step down as British Cycling chairman. Browning said he had stabilised the organisation after stepping in during a time of crisis, but many will also point to his having been part of the board when it was labelled ‘inept’ for its handling of the dismissal of Jessica Varnish.
Commenting on his decision to stand down, Browning said: “When I stepped into the role of chair in February, British Cycling was in the depths of a crisis, facing severe reputational damage and there was an absence of strong, visible leadership.
“It was clear to me that we needed to very quickly stabilise the organisation and put in place a comprehensive plan to rapidly introduce major changes to the World Class Programme and to our leadership, operations and governance which were in need of immediate reform and repair.
“Over the past nine months, we have done exactly that. The efforts of so many across British Cycling – including both staff and riders – have resulted in: a comprehensive set of plans to address every recommendation within the Cycling Independent Review; approval for all the changes required for British Cycling to comply with the Code for Sports Governance; funding secured from UK Sport and Sport England for the Tokyo Olympic cycle; the implementation of a new medical services staff and structure; new grievance, whistleblowing and athlete representation processes; and the commissioning and implementation of recommendations from an external financial audit.
“On top of all this, and perhaps most critically, we have appointed strong new leaders including Julie Harrington, our chief executive officer, and Stephen Park, our performance director.”
Browning was appointed chairman in February but found himself immediately on the defensive as a result of having served as CEO of Volkswagen’s US operations at a time when the firm was cheating in emission tests.
He had also been a nonexecutive director at British Cycling’s since April 2014, meaning he was part of the board that was criticised by the independent review into the Climate and Culture of the World Class Programme.
The draft version of the review accused the board of sanitising and even reversing the findings an internal investigation into the dismissal of Jessica Varnish. It stated: “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.”
In the wake of the review, UK Sport, the funding body for British Cycling, is thought to have concluded that Browning’s position was untenable. A few months later, Culture, Media and Sport select committee chairman Damian Collins MP called for him to resign.
In July, British Cycling voted in favour of changing its constitution to ensure compliance with UK Sport’s Code for Sports Governance. One of the changes demanded that Browning reapply for the job as independent chair. While he initially did so, he withdrew his candidacy before a board meeting on Wednesday morning.
He will now return to his previous role as a non-executive director on the British Cycling Board. His current term comes to an end on March 31 2018, which can be renewed for a further two terms.
Julie Harrington, British Cycling CEO, said: “I would like to place on record my personal thanks to Jonathan who has given me strong support and great advice through the first few months of my time as chief executive. Under his leadership, British Cycling defined and has begun rapid changes to adapt and grow into the role it has earned in the public life of this country and that is a process I am committed to continuing.”
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