LONDON (Reuters) - British Cycling has been heavily criticized for “a culture of fear” in an independent review into the sport, published on Wednesday, which identified failings in governance and leadership following allegations of bullying and sexism.
The sport’s drive for medals meant behavioral issues were not addressed as British Cycling lost sight of basic duties of care to staff, said the Cycling Independent Review (CIR), which also criticized the former technical director, Shane Sutton, and UK Sport, the government’s funding organization.
“Many WCP staff members referred to a ‘culture of fear’ in terms of retribution or losing employment,” it said.
“The panel found that there were failings in British Cycling’s governance and leadership, monitoring and supervision of the WCP (World Class Programme), training and development, and management and communications with staff and athletes,” it added.
The CIR also “drew attention” to the Commissioning Board “unsubstantiated evidence” made by some contributors of alleged financial irregularities and historic doping. The CIR said it had not investigated these allegations.
The findings will be hugely embarrassing for one of Britain’s most successful and heavily funded sports which has enjoyed huge success at Olympics and Paralympics after discovering a seemingly endless conveyor belt of sporting talent.
The five-person panel recommended a root-and-branch review of governance, calling for “autocratic” leadership to change, staff to be better trained in equality and discrimination and that future funding be made conditional on implementation of its recommendations.
It also called for better monitoring of the WCP by UK Sport.
The review was jointly commissioned by British Cycling and UK Sport last April after former British Olympian Jess Varnish made allegations of bullying and sexism against Sutton after she was dropped from the team.
Other riders also made allegations against Sutton, which he denied. The Australian was suspended but immediately quit. An internal inquiry by the British Cycling Board upheld an allegation that Sutton referred to female riders in insulting terms.
The five-strong panel, led by British Rowing chairwoman Annamarie Phelps, said a “power pocket” was created around Sutton following his appointment as technical director in 2014.
“Although Shane Sutton has an innate ability to coach riders to medal-winning performances, the Panel heard from numerous contributors that he did not possess the necessary skill-set to lead the WCP,” it said.
British Cycling’s chairman, Jonathan Browning, said he accepted the report’s findings.
“We accept, in full, the recommendations and apologize for where we have failed or fallen short,” he said.
“Our structures and procedures, especially at the leadership level within the World Class Programme were lacking.
“Since the findings were shared with us, we have rapidly made major changes to the WCP and to our leadership, operations and governance so that we can ensure that British Cycling learns these lessons and becomes a world-class governing body.”
UK Sport said: “UK Sport acknowledges the need for greater oversight of World Class Programmes, with a particular focus on culture and duty of care.”
The CIR said it had accepted 180 written contributions, conducted 44 interviews and considered 11 files of documentation.
Part of the CIR is redacted and some of its language and conclusions are different from those of a draft report which was leaked to the Daily Mail in March.
British Cycling is due to receive 43 million pounds ($55 million) over the next four years from government funding bodies UK Sport and Sport England.
($1 = 0.7855 pounds)
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams, Neville Dalton