British Cycling is not in crisis despite technical director Shane Sutton having resigned amid claims of sexism and discrimination, according to its chief executive Ian Drake.
British Cycling is investigating claims Australian Sutton, 58, used derogatory words to describe Para-cyclists.
It is also holding a review after elite cyclist Jess Varnish alleged he made sexist comments towards her and told her to “go and have a baby”.
Sutton “rejects the specific claims”.
Speaking to BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Drake said Sutton’s resignation – and the review into the behaviour and culture of the organisation – would “hopefully” not cost the team medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Sutton left his post on the day British athletes and Para-athletes marked the 100-day countdown to this summer’s Games.
He said the allegations against him had “become a distraction” and he had stepped down “in the best interests of British Cycling”.
Asked if his organisation was now in crisis, Drake said: “Not at all. We have to get the independent review right and there is no point having a system where people feel they are not in a supportive environment and not potentially being given a duty of care.”
Drake told BBC Sport:
- He was “very much” surprised by the allegations
- He accepts “any allegations around the system” will “damage” British Cycling
- Anyone with experiences of “completely unacceptable language or derogatory terms” should come forward
- The distraction of allegations around Sutton was “potentially detrimental” to Rio hopes, but Sutton will play a full part in the review
- A new generation of coaches has “refreshed the system”
- Inspiring people to take up cycling is more important than medals
What are the sexism allegations?
Varnish, who was dropped from the GB team after failing to qualify for the sprint team for Rio, said she spoke out against Sutton in order to change attitudes at British Cycling.
Sutton, who has been a GB coach since 2002, denies the 25-year-old’s claims, which include him making a sexist comment about her body shape.
He said Varnish’s contract was not renewed because her times had slowed over the past three years and she was unlikely to win a medal, saying she was “not up to the job”.
“There was never any talk of babies,” he told The Times.
He insisted he had never used the terminology “you’ve got a fat arse”, adding: “I’m just really upset she would say that.”
And the disability discrimination claims?
British Cycling had already begun an “independent review” into its performance programmes following Varnish’s comments.
On Wednesday it started a further investigation and suspended Sutton after Darren Kenny, one of Britain’s most decorated Para-cyclists, told the Daily Mail he heard members of the British disability team referred to as “gimps” and “wobblies”.
Kenny, who won six Paralympic gold medals, later told BBC Sport the use of the word “became common”.
“I never heard the term ‘wobblies’ but the other term, I don’t think there is anyone at British Cycling who hasn’t heard it.” said the 46-year-old. “It was an everyday thing.”
However, Kenny also said he felt Sutton “does a good job” and was “being made a scapegoat slightly”.
He claimed to have “heard other talk of other situations”, adding the investigation was “not much of a surprise” because “we all know it happened time and time again”.
Who is Shane Sutton?
Sutton joined British Cycling as a coach in 2002 and was part of the team that won seven track gold medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He was made technical director in 2014 when Sir Dave Brailsford stepped down after a hugely successful decade in charge.
On Wednesday, Brailsford described Sutton’s contribution as “immense” and said his resignation was “understandable” because “his sole focus has always been the athletes”.
Sutton, who won Commonwealth Games gold as a rider, had been due to take charge of performance at the Rio Olympics, which begin on 5 August.
In 2009, British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy described Sutton as his mentor and said he had been “hugely influential in my success”.
He said Sutton, who also mentored Sir Bradley Wiggins, is “so intense that there are times that the only thing you can do is fall out with him”.
Other reaction from British cyclists
Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke both backed Varnish and criticised British Cycling.
“I know exactly how miserable they made me,” said Pendleton, 35, now retired from track cycling. Cooke, 33, a road specialist who is also retired, added: “Speak out and your dreams will be destroyed and years of hard work wasted. Or put up with it and hope.”
Joanna Rowsell Shand, 27, who competes on track and road, said she was “surprised” by the allegations and felt British Cycling’s treatment of track riders was “very equal”.
Fellow Olympic gold medallist Dani King, 25, said she had never been subjected to sexist comments by Sutton, and double London 2012 gold medallist Laura Trott, 24, said she had “only ever had a wholly positive and healthy working relationship” with him.
Peter Kennaugh, who won gold as part of the team pursuit at London 2012, told BBC Radio York: “Shane’s a great guy with a massive heart. It is a sport and if you are not meeting the standards which are very high at British Cycling, then unfortunately there’s no place for you anymore.
“It is ruthless at this level. I think a lot of it has been blown out of proportion.”
Shane Sutton factfile
- 1978: Wins track team pursuit gold at Commonwealth Games
- 1984: Moves to Great Britain
- 1990: Wins Milk Race (now Tour of Britain)
- 2002: Joins British Cycling as coach
- 2008: Wins coach of the year award
- 2010: Awarded OBE in Queen’s birthday honours list
- 2012: Diagnosed with bleeding on the brain after a bike crash in Manchester
- 2014: Appointed technical director of British Cycling after Brailsford leaves