Jess Varnish wants to see members of the British Cycling board ousted if it is shown they reversed the findings of an internal investigation into her removal from the governing body’s elite programme.
A draft version of the report – leaked to the Daily Mail – from an independent review into British Cycling’s “culture and climate” accuses the board of “sanitising” and even “reversing” the findings of British Cycling director Alex Russell’s internal probe in an attempt to clear former technical director Shane Sutton.
Varnish had accused Sutton of using sexist language towards her when he told her of her release, saying the Australian told her to “go and have a baby” – claims he denies.
In an interview with BBC News, Varnish said: “I’m not surprised. I had absolutely no faith in the investigation from the get go. I had been there for a long time and basically I had no faith in it whatsoever so unfortunately I’m not shocked by that.
“Now there needs to be changes. These people can’t be still in there if they’ve reversed facts. They can’t still be able to be on that board.”
If Varnish’s demands were met the new chairman of British Cycling, Jonathan Browning, would be affected given he was on the board at the time of Russell’s investigation.
Within days of Varnish making her allegations, other former riders had come forward to make similar allegations and Sutton, an Australian with a matter-of-fact approach, resigned.
The draft report leaked on Friday delivered a damning indictment of “dysfunctional” and “inept” leadership overseeing a programme in which a “culture of fear” exists, where dissenting voices are shown the door, and bullying and sexism is tolerated.
Co-commissioned by British Cycling and elite funding agency UK Sport, the 10-month inquiry into allegations of bullying and discrimination has been conducted by a five-strong panel led by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps.
Already months late, its publication is being held up by a process known as Maxwellisation, a legal procedure which gives individuals criticised in an inquiry the right of reply.
Varnish said she had been surprised the report had been leaked, but was not surprised by its contents and was “relieved” that “the truth is coming out”.
“Obviously my story is the truth and it’s been exactly the same throughout, but I feel like I have just been pulled from pillar to post,” she said.
“One minute they’re saying the board are saying that they believe me, the next minute I’m receiving a letter and a knock at the door saying it’s reversed. Just to get this and see that it’s a cover up is huge.”
Asked why she thought British Cycling might attempt to cover up the facts, she said: “Just to protect themselves and to protect the look of British Cycling. It’s a lot easier for them to throw me under the bus rather than the whole of British Cycling and for the actual truth to come out.”
Varnish said Sutton should not be allowed to work in cycling again. The 59-year-old coach recently missed out on the role of performance director for Cycling Australia – a job which instead went to Team Sky’s Simon Jones.
Varnish has also asked her lawyers to consider whether she should launch legal action in the wake of the report.
A statement released on Friday evening on behalf of the Cycling Independent Review Panel, British Cycling and UK Sport expressed disappointment that the report had been leaked before it was finalised, and said there would be no further comment until the report was completed and published.
It is understood that the key players, such as former British Cycling performance director and current Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford and Sutton, have pushed back hard against the draft findings, which were written by the panel’s legal expert John Mehrzad.
It is also understood the board is surprised to see Russell described as a “grievance officer” when she was a board member and deny her findings were in any way diluted.
The board has several other issues with what it believes are factual inaccuracies in the report, such as the claim Sutton’s severance package of a year’s salary was actually a pay rise, and is annoyed that contributions which reject the “culture of fear” narrative have not been reflected.