British Cycling has suspended technical director Shane Sutton after launching an independent review into allegations of discrimination.
The governing body announced the review on Tuesday evening after claims of sexism by Jess Varnish, who alleges she was told to “go and have a baby” after her contract was not renewed.
That was followed by a report in the Daily Mail accusing the Australian of calling Paralympic cyclists derogatory names.
A statement from British Cycling read: “Following the announcement of an independent review into British Cycling’s performance programmes, we are also announcing technical director Shane Sutton has been suspended pending an internal investigation into the allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.”
Sutton denies the allegations made by Varnish.
When asked by the Times if he had told Varnish to “go and have a baby” after she was dropped from the British team, the 58-year-old said: “One hundred per cent no. There was never any talk of babies. I don’t know where that’s come from.
“Jess is a wonderful girl, a beautiful person, I couldn’t ask for any more from her on the programme. Unfortunately everything comes to an end and unfortunately her time on the programme is done.”
On the panel, Sutton added: “I’m embracing the opportunity to actually sit in front of the panel and give my view because I don’t think I’ve been heard properly from day one. I’ve had great support from from everybody here but at the end of the day it’s an allegation.”
The Times interview took place before further allegations from 10-time Paralympic medal winner Darren Kenny, who was quoted in the Mail saying: “The attitude towards (members of the disability team) was abysmal. We were tolerated at best. The term used to refer to us was generally “gimps”, with another word in front of that.”
British Cycling announced the review would take place with a statement which read: “British Cycling is announcing the formation of an independent review, in conjunction with UK Sport, of the federation’s performance programmes following allegations of discriminatory behaviour. We are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity and we must take any such allegations seriously.”
UK Sport, the umbrella organisation for Olympic and Paralympic sports, had previously opened discussions with British Cycling to press for an investigation.
Chief executive Liz Nicholl said: “UK Sport expects all athletes and support personnel to adhere to the highest levels of professionalism and conduct and have a zero tolerance approach to sexist behaviour or language. As a recipient of world-class programme funding from UK Sport, British Cycling has a responsibility to assure us that such matters are dealt with appropriately, swiftly, fairly and transparently.”
Varnish’s statement, released prior to the announcement, was strongly critical of the way her departure from the programme was handled.
She said: “I feel that chance is being denied to me unfairly. I also want to change the culture at British Cycling and their treatment of women.
“The comment that Shane Sutton told me ‘to go and have a baby’ is true. I stand by all my statements in the Daily Mail interview and have examples of other comments made to me during my time at British Cycling by Shane Sutton dating back many years.
“At 25 years old I feel my best years are ahead of me. I also want to compete for Great Britain again. I am not too old. I am not a waste of UK Sport’s money. I can win more medals.
“I hope that by shining a light on this culture, and sharing my experiences, the relevant people can investigate and make changes.
“For now I remain open to sharing my experiences with both British Cycling and/or UK Sport, and will happily engage with any investigations into the comments that Shane Sutton has made to me, and other riders. I would prefer to do this privately, however to date this hasn’t been an option.”
Varnish claims she has heard from others “both present and past”, who have voiced their own concerns over treatment. and has heard words of support from Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke as well as multiple world champion Wendy Houvenaghel.
Pendleton, Varnish’s sprint partner at London 2012, told the Daily Telegraph: “I would not be able to live with myself if I sat back and let people try to discredit (Varnish’s) character. Not when I wholeheartedly believe her.
“My experiences were very similar. And I know exactly how miserable they made me.”
On Pendleton’s remarks, Sutton added: “I find it astonishing Vicky would wade in. The number of times I’ve held her in my arms in the track centre when she has capitulated. I was very supportive of her. I’m a bit hurt by the allegations given my relationship with her over the years.”