Olympian Jess Varnish accuses British Cycling of ‘extreme control’

first_imgShare on Messenger Reuse this content Cycling British Cycling Since you’re here… Team GB Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Support The Guardian Jess Varnish UK Sport Share on WhatsApp Topics The Recap: sign up for the best of the Guardian’s sport coverage news Share on Pinterest The Olympic cyclist Jess Varnish has accused British Cycling of exercising “extreme control” over her and other athletes in her long-running legal attempt to sue the organisation for sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.In order to bring her discrimination claim, Varnish, 28, must first prove that she was an employee of either British Cycling, which didn’t pay her but had supported her training since she was 12, or UK Sport, which from 2015 provided her with a £21,500 tax-free grant towards her living and training costs.She fell out publicly with British Cycling in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, when she was kicked off the podium programme for top athletes. She had failed to qualify for her sprint event at the Olympics and her coaches decided she was unlikely to win a medal at Rio.Varnish then gave a media interview claiming one of her coaches, Shane Sutton, had told her she was “too old” and should leave and “have a baby”. Sutton subsequently said: “I’m adamant that I am innocent. I have definitely never overstepped the mark.” He did however accept he had told her to lose some “timber”.UK Sport insists Varnish was not one of its employees and did not work for the organisation because “there was no mutuality of obligation …[She] was the recipient of a grant (not remuneration) from [UK Sport] to allow her, as a talented athlete, to train and prepare as best she could for Olympic and World Championship events, ie to succeed on her own account.”It says that the “athlete performance award” received by Varnish was “akin to grants offered in the past by local authorities to help students pay for their living costs while studying for degrees”. Share via Email Share on Twitter In documents submitted to an employment tribunal in Manchester on Tuesday, Varnish argued that she was an employee because of the “net of control” extended over her and other athletes by British Cycling, alleging it punished them for minor transgressions, and told them what to wear, eat and say in public.She had to wear Team GB kit even when arriving at the velodrome for training, leaving “very limited opportunity for self expression”, she claimed, and had to relinquish her own image rights to British Cycling. She said she was “obliged” to complete media appearances and volunteer days for both British Cycling and UK Sport, where athletes “were told what to say or what to avoid”.She described being punished after turning up 10 minutes late to her first training session with her “idols” Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, when she was still a teenager. Her coach, Iain Dyer, made her “ride around the velodrome for 30 laps as punishment for being late. He made me stick out like a sore thumb when everyone else was just warming up.” She complained: “Non-compliance with the rules was just not tolerated for any reason whatsoever.”Varnish said British Cycling even owned her blood samples – “this is an example of the extreme control exercised over the lives of cyclists.” She also had to submit to monthly skin fold tests to check how much fat she had put on, and had to take pictures of her food via an app to send to her coaches. She also described cyclists regularly training until they vomited and being forced to train when her hands were bleeding and blistered after lifting 180kg weights.She said she was “completely” supported by British Cycling and UK Sport: “I received top quality medical care, dentistry, psychological support … I think UK Sport estimate that this is worth about £23,000 to £40,000.”Varnish joined British Cycling’s talent programme aged 12 and moved up the ranks until 2010, when she joined the podium programme, reserved for elite cyclists with a chance of winning a medal at either a world championship or Olympics. When she first moved to Manchester to train as a teenager she was given £7,500 a year from UK Sport. She lived in a flat rented by British Cycling and paid £250 in rent.She told the tribunal that she missed out on lucrative sponsorship agreements with Virgin Trains and the clothing company Sweaty Betty because they were vetoed by British Cycling.But under cross-examination by Thomas Linden, QC, representing British Cycling, Varnish accepted she had set up a business in 2010 “for tax purposes” through which her sponsorship deals could be processed.The tribunal heard that in June 2011 she signed a three-year deal with Boots that promised to pay her £32,500 in the first 18 months and then a further £50,000. To earn the money she had to commit to nine eight-hour days promoting Boots each year, Linden told the tribunal. If she won medals in 2012-2014 she would receive bonuses of £5,000 a time, he added.Varnish, asked why she hadn’t declared either the business or a sponsorship deal with Boots in her witness statement, said: “I wrote the witness statement about the level of control. Because that’s what it was about.”Linden put it to her that she was able to enter into the Boots deal because she knew Dyer would not object. “I could sign it whether it would be disapproved of or not,” she accepted. Linden said Dyer, who was due to give evidence to the tribunal, had been “very sympathetic to requests from athletes for sponsorship opportunities because he understood the need for athletes to earn from other sources.”She also had a deal to get a free car from Nissan, a British Olympic Federation partner, and had a commercial agreement with Adidas, the tribunal heard.Evidence was also expected to be heard from witnesses including Varnish’s partner, the former BMX world champion Liam Phillips, and Dr Richard Freeman, the former British Cycling team doctor who was embroiled in the Bradley Wiggin’s jiffy bag scandal.The tribunal continues. Read more … we have a small favour to ask. 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