Jess Varnish says she has ‘no regrets’ over failed tribunal against British Cycling and UK Sport

Jess Varnish

Jess Varnish appeared at the employment tribunal in December where she was cross-examined for over five hours by British Cycling lawyers

Ex-Great Britain cyclist Jess Varnish says she is “disappointed” but has “no regrets” over her failed attempt to prove she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport at tribunal.

The decision means the 28-year-old is highly unlikely to be able to sue both bodies for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination after being dropped by GB in 2016.

“The tactics used against me at times were aggressive, my character was repeatedly called into question, my motives challenged,” she said.

In a statement Varnish, who says that British Cycling’s control over her made it akin to her employer, said the defence to her challenge at an employment tribunal didn’t “uphold the Olympic ideals, rather one that embraced the win-at-all-costs mentality for which they’d recently been criticised”.

British Cycling had argued that her deal with them was more like a university grant.

Varnish added: “The irony for me is, right at the beginning of this process, when I met with British Cycling, all I asked for was an apology and commitment to improve athlete welfare. Neither were given.

“I therefore hope that Julie Harrington [British Cycling chief executive] can reflect on how my situation was handled and ensure that no other athlete endure the same inept process.

“It was clear that the only way to engage and ensure change occurred within these organisations was a legal challenge. There is no other option open to athletes.

“It took two leading barristers, a team of eight lawyers, a seven-day tribunal, close to £1 million in legal fees and a proclamation that the ‘skies would fall in’ if the system was changed for British Cycling and UK Sport, to answer some simple questions posed by one athlete about the set-up of the World Class Performance System.

“That it required all of this, and that even during the tribunal they struggled to answer simple questions, showed me I was right to push through my concerns and seek clarity, not just for myself, but for all athletes on the World Class Programme, to ensure that the administrators at these organisations are as world class as the athletes that represent them.”

She added that she was considering an appeal but said: “I take this process seriously and will not appeal for appeal’s sake.”

UK Sport said the judge’s decision gave them “confidence” in the way relationships between athletes, governing bodies and itself are managed, but the body added it will “reflect on the concerns that were raised through this case”.

Former European team sprint champion and world silver medallist Varnish is due to have a baby this week.

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March 2017: Varnish ‘relieved truth is coming out’

The landmark ruling is a blow to any other Olympic athletes who had considered suing UK Sport and/or their respective governing bodies.

UK Sport gives more than 1,000 athletes up to £25,000 a year tax-free, but it does not offer benefits such as holidays, sick pay and pensions.

Offering improved contractual terms could mean fewer grants are awarded to athletes as well as more cases of wrongful dismissal being brought.

Athlete welfare has been a topical issue with UK Sport and various governing bodies being criticised in the past for a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality.

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