British Cycling chief executive Ian Drake insists the organisation is not in crisis following the resignation of technical director Shane Sutton amid claims of sexism and discrimination.
The governing body is investigating claims Sutton, 58, used derogatory words to describe Para-cyclists.
An independent review will also look into cyclist Jess Varnish’s accusations that Sutton made sexist comments and told her to “go and have a baby”.
Sutton “rejects the specific claims”.
Speaking to BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Drake said he hoped Sutton’s resignation – and the review into the behaviour and culture of the organisation – would not cost the team medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Sutton left his post on the day British athletes and Para-athletes marked the start of 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 also denied Sutton had “jumped before he was pushed”.
Programmes director Andy Harrison is taking over from Sutton.
Drake told BBC Sport:
- He was “very much” surprised by the allegations.
- He accepts “any allegations” 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.
- Inspiring people to take up cycling is more important than medals.
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.
“There was never any talk of babies,” he told The Times.
He also insisted he had never used the terminology “you’ve got a fat arse”, adding: “I’m just really upset she would say that.”
The 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 told the Daily Mail he heard members of the British disability team referred to as “gimps” and “wobblies”.
Kenny, one of Britain’s most decorated Para-cyclists, 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, who won six Paralympic gold medals. “It was an everyday thing.”
However, Kenny, awarded an OBE in 2009, also said he felt Sutton “does a good job” and was “being made a scapegoat slightly”.
A ‘climate of fear’?
Former BMX world champion Kelvin Batey said he was driven to suicidal thoughts by his “intimidating” experiences with British Cycling and Sutton.
“There was one point where I thought about stepping into the road and ending it all,” said the 34-year-old Englishman told BBC Sport.
“That is how bad and how low it got me. Luckily, I had friends and family who pulled me through and positives came from a low point.
“I have never been that low and will never get get that low again.
“That man has got a lot to answer for because I am sure I am not the only person he has affected at such an extreme level.”
Sutton denies Batey’s allegations.
Former GB track and road cyclist Rob Hayles, who worked with Sutton for about five years until 2009, said the Australian was “very good with the riders and the coaching at the mental side”.
However, he said his “bad cop, bad cop” routine did not work when he moved into senior management.
Asked about a climate of fear in British Cycling, Hayles said: “It is true. I think a lot of the riders and staff among them are treading in fear in the velodrome.”
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”.
What are others saying?
Olympic cycling champions Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke have 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, while 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.”
Double Olympic champion Geraint Thomas said: “Shane is one of the main reasons I am where I am today.
“He has always wanted the best for British riders and gone the extra mile for us. He’s done more than most for British Cycling.
“The inequality issues won’t finish with Shane’s resignation/investigation, there is a problem with inequality in cycling as a whole that needs to be addressed.”
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
- 2014: Appointed technical director of British Cycling after Brailsford leaves
BBC sports editor Dan Roan:
“For almost a decade, cycling has been known as Britain’s ‘medal factory’. It has been Team GB’s most successful Olympic sport in recent times, with gold after gold and a host of household names.
“What has to be decided now is whether there needs to be a change in culture at British cycling, an organisation that receives more public funding than any other Olympic sport.”