‘Jiffy-bag doctor’ Freeman pulls out of Varnish tribunal

Jess Varnish

Jess Varnish arrives at the employment tribunal on Wednesday, accompanied by boyfriend and ex-GB BMX champion Liam Phillips (second left)

The doctor involved in cycling’s jiffy-bag scandal has pulled out of giving evidence to Jess Varnish’s employment tribunal on legal grounds.

Dr Richard Freeman was due to be a key witness for former GB cyclist Varnish as she attempts to sue British Cycling and UK Sport for wrongful dismissal.

The 28-year-old is also claiming damages for sexual discrimination after she was dropped in 2016.

Varnish’s lawyer David Reade QC said an ongoing General Medical Council investigation into Freeman, a former Team Sky doctor, had caused his legal team to reconsider his attendance.

Freeman is due to appear at a GMC hearing in February to explain how a mystery delivery of testosterone arrived at Team Sky’s headquarters in 2011.

The decision not to appear was announced to the tribunal in Manchester at the start of the afternoon session after doubts surfaced regarding Freeman’s attendance in the morning.

Reade said that Freeman’s witness statement had been provided to the GMC as part of its investigation and they were due to attend the tribunal because “Dr Freeman would be cross-examined to establish his probity”.

“When we informed him of that, he was advised by his legal team that he should not give evidence,” he said.

Thomas Linden QC, representing British Cycling, said he did not accept that argument, stating that Freeman did not have “the courage to be cross-examined or for me to point out to him that his statements are false”.

Linden cited how in 2017 Freeman had failed to turn up to a parliamentary select committee after a “major depressive illness”.

He also highlighted that the same year, Freeman was allowed to resign from British Cycling rather than face a disciplinary process for his poor record-keeping, as he was still suffering from depression and stress.

Freeman became a controversial figure in British cycling because of his part in the jiffy-bag scandal.

He denied any wrongdoing over a mystery medical package that was delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins after a race in 2011, despite allegations of the misuse of an anti-inflammatory drug.

Speaking at the release of his book earlier this year, he said the investigation into the jiffy-bag scandal had given him “suicidal thoughts”.

Linden added: “Freeman’s credibility is an issue. He has form for pulling out.”

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July 2018: Former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor Freeman – We never crossed the line

Coaches threw away Hindes’ Wimbledon invite

Freeman was set to be one of four witnesses for Varnish, who is aiming to establish that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport, and therefore subject to discrimination.

On Tuesday, pregnant Varnish was cross-examined for more than four hours by Linden as she described how British Cycling exerted “extreme control” over her when it came to training, sponsorships and time off.

On Wednesday morning, Varnish’s agent James Harper and her partner and former GB BMX star Liam Phillips backed up her claims.

But both were strongly challenged by Linden, who described parts of Harper’s written statement as “nonsense”, later suggesting to Phillips that he was adding “spin” to his stories.

Harper, who represents Phillips, Varnish and several other athletes, has claimed that British Cycling is “the most aggressive” governing body he works with in terms of controlling the commercial rights of its athletes.

To support this claim, he listed the difficulties he had while trying to do personal deals for Varnish and Shanaze Reade, the multiple BMX and track world champion. He also discussed Ben Swift’s contentious move from Katusha to Team Sky in 2010.

“Other sports are much better developed in protecting their athletes,” wrote Harper. “The level of control exercised by British Cycling is enormous.”

Phillips described double Olympic champion Philip Hindes as an example of how British Cycling exerted its authority.

He said that coaches “threw away” an invitation for Hindes to attend the Royal Box at Wimbledon in 2013 after his success at London 2012, because “it would interfere with his training”.

Under cross-examination, Phillips admitted that once Hindes found out others were attending, he eventually made it to the Grand Slam tennis event but was “furious” about his coaches’ behaviour and was told it would put his selection for a European Under-23 event in jeopardy.

The hearing continues, with Reade getting the chance to cross-examine the witnesses used by British Cycling and UK Sport: the national governing body’s lawyer Matthew Barnes, head coach Iain Dyer, programmes director Andy Harrison and UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl.

The hearing is expected to last until 17 December.

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British Cycling coaches had ‘extreme control’

Jess Varnish arriving at the tribunal

Jess Varnish arrives at the employment tribunal with boyfriend and ex-GB BMX champion Liam Phillips

Jess Varnish has told an employment tribunal that British Cycling coaches would “listen through the door” during training camps as an example of the body’s “extreme control” over cyclists.

The 28-year-old, a former European team sprint champion, is suing for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination after being dropped by GB in 2016.

The tribunal in Manchester will decide whether she was an employee of both British Cycling and UK Sport. Varnish says British Cycling’s control over her made it akin to her employer.

The former world silver medallist told the hearing she went away on training camps as a 15-year-old and coaches would “listen through the [hotel] door to see if you were still awake”.

She said regular blood tests were also an example of an “extreme control exercised over the lives of cyclists”.

Should it be ruled that Varnish was an employee, the parties involved will reconvene for a second tribunal in 2019.

But as cross-examination entered a fifth hour, a pregnant Varnish admitted that annual funding from UK Sport amounted to “tax-free grants”, which could damage her case.

The hearing is expected to last until 17 December.

‘No choice to sign agreement’

The sprinter argued in her witness statement that control was established from a young age when she had “no choice” but to sign a performance agreement with British Cycling.

She told the tribunal: “We had emails from coaches saying if you don’t sign this, you won’t get paid this month.”

But in one of several tense exchanges, Thomas Linden QC, British Cycling’s lawyer, asked: “Did you appreciate the terms and conditions within that agreement?”

Varnish replied: “Whether I agree to the terms or conditions or not, I’d need to sign the agreement to get paid.”

Linden argued Varnish’s annual funding agreements did not change between 2005 and 2016 and suggested Varnish was acting as a freelancer.

He also said it would have been “more fair and truthful” to tell the tribunal that in 2010 she set up her own company, Jess Varnish Management, to reduce the taxes she had to pay on her sponsorship earnings.

At the time, the company turned over about £32,000 a year.

He also highlighted how British Cycling helped raise Varnish’s profile on social media.

‘Watching Strictly Come Dancing was held against me’

During the afternoon session, Varnish and Linden clashed several times on their interpretations of whether the environment at British Cycling was “controlling” which included how hard Varnish trained, a trip to watch former cyclist Victoria Pendleton appear on Strictly Come Dancing, and asking former technical director Shane Sutton to “reshuffle” her training schedule on a trip to Australia, to which he replied, “You don’t just tell us what you’re doing”.

Varnish said, “If you didn’t take advice there would be consequences,” but when asked what they were, she added: “[Coaches] would play you and other athletes off against each other. There would be mind games and they would make you not feel comfortable about what you did.”

On her Strictly Come Dancing trip to London, where Varnish was spotted in the crowd, she added: “I can’t tell you I was disciplined but it was still held against me.”

Linden, however, demonstrated several examples of exchanges between Varnish and coach Iain Dyer where he appeared friendly and flexible towards her needs.

Background to the case

Varnish began legal proceedings after claiming that she was dropped from the UK’s elite cycling programme after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and told to “go and have a baby”.


Jess Varnish competed in the team sprint at the London 2012 Olympics, but failed to qualify for Rio 2016

An investigation found that British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton had used sexist language, and he resigned as a result. But the Australian was cleared of eight other charges, including making the “baby” comment.

British Cycling maintains that Varnish was dropped on the basis of performances alone.

She must convince the tribunal that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport and therefore entitled to workers’ rights.

How case could affect other athletes

Varnish’s case could have ramifications for other Olympic athletes.

In addition to British Cycling grants, UK Sport gives more than 1,000 athletes up to £25,000 a year tax-free, in what UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl has likened to “student grants”, but it does not offer benefits such as holidays, sick pay and pensions.

There are also concerns that athletes are left vulnerable in the event of disputes or grievances.

If Varnish wins, it could force UK Sport to offer improved contractual terms, which would come with an added cost, and potentially lead to more cases of wrongful dismissal being brought.

In turn, that could affect how many grants are awarded to athletes each year.

UK Sport has been criticised in some quarters for a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality.

In a recent BBC interview, Nicholl said: “Obviously, we may be forced to change some things but regardless of that we will absolutely look at what is the best relationship for [athletes] and for the system of public funding.”

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Wiggins ‘jiffy-bag’ doctor to give evidence at Varnish tribunal

Jess Varnish

Varnish is a European gold medallist in the women’s team sprint

Jess Varnish will call British Cycling’s controversial former chief medic Dr Richard Freeman to give evidence to a tribunal on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old sprinter’s case against British Cycling and UK Sport is set to begin as she claims unfair dismissal.

The tribunal will consider if, as an athlete in receipt of UK Sport funding, she was self-employed or an employee.

Should it be ruled that Varnish was an employee, the parties would reconvene for a tribunal in 2019.

The hearing in Manchester is expected to last until 17 December.

Freeman, who is the subject of a General Medical Council investigation, is one of three witnesses Varnish is set to call to give evidence. The others are her boyfriend and ex-GB BMX champion Liam Phillips and her agent James Harper.

Freeman was the doctor who received a ‘mystery package’ for Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2011. He denied any wrongdoing in an interview with BBC Sport in July and he resigned from British Cycling because of ill health in October 2017.

Simon Fenton, representing Varnish, said her case is “she was an employee (or worker), with the right not to be discriminated against”.

He added: “This case comes in a line of decisions from the cases of Uber, Addison Lee and Pimlico Plumbers which show how tribunals are looking at what actually happened in practice rather than simply accepting what is said in the contractual documentation. And they are deciding that the individuals are workers.”

On Monday both sides in the dispute spent the first day of their employment tribunal reading each others’ paperwork, with Varnish’s camp receiving 4,000 pages of documents from their opponents on Sunday.

Varnish was omitted following the 2016 Track Cycling World Championships in London, after the two-woman, two-rider team sprint squad she was part of failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

She alleged sex discrimination against Shane Sutton, then the technical director of British Cycling, who was found to have used sexist language towards her.

Sutton resigned but was later cleared of eight of nine allegations.

A UK Sport spokesperson told BBC Sport the organisation had been “advised that we are unable to comment while these legal proceedings are taking place”.

British Cycling said it had no comment to make before the hearing.


Dan Roan, BBC sports editor

Varnish will call three witnesses as she and her lawyers try to show that she was subject to the kind of control and restrictions that meant she was effectively an employee of British Cycling – and that she was the victim of discrimination

This could be just as important a landmark case to British Olympic and Paralympic sport as the Bosman ruling was to football back in 1995 when it allowed players to be free agents after their contracts expired

If the tribunal finds in Varnish’s favour, not only could she be awarded compensation for lost earnings – it may have major repercussions for hundreds of other athletes. UK Sport may become liable for backdated pensions and tax contributions of other athletes – and then have to cut the numbers who receive support. UK Sport currently treats athlete funds as if they are student grants – with no tax having to be paid. But all that could change if Varnish prevails.

In terms of medals, the current funding system has proved highly successful, but critics say it leaves athletes too vulnerable, and it is now under threat like never before.

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UCI Track World Cup: Laura Kenny and Emily Nelson claim final day gold

Emily Nelson and Laura Kenny

Emily Nelson and Laura Kenny both won two gold medals in Germany

Britain’s Laura Kenny and Emily Nelson claimed madison gold on the final day of the UCI Track World Cup in Berlin.

Four-time Olympic champion Kenny was a late replacement after Katie Archibald withdrew following her omnium crash during her gold medal win on Saturday.

Kenny and Nelson had Britain’s sole podium finish on the final day in Germany – and the fifth of the weekend.

Sunday’s race was halted temporarily with 54 laps to go after a crash involving Italy’s Letizia Paternoster.

Paternoster was taken to hospital after receiving medical treatment trackside and when racing resumed, Kenny and Nelson consistently scored highly in the sprints.

In the closing moments, Danish duo Julie Leth and Trine Schmidt took a lap to go top of the leaderboard but the British pair secured the double points victory on the final sprint to finish on 37, nine points clear.

It added to the gold they won as part of the women’s team pursuit and as well as Archibald’s gold, there was silver in the men’s team sprint and for Ollie Wood and Mark Stewart in the madison.

Wood finished 11th in the omnium after an early exit in the elimination in the second session.

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Tour de Yorkshire to use Worlds circuit in Harrogate

American Megan Guarnier raises her hands in celebration as she crosses the line after winning the 2018 women's Tour de Yorkshire

American Megan Guarnier won the 2018 women’s Tour de Yorkshire with victory on stage two in Ilkley

The 2019 men’s and women’s Tour de Yorkshire will include the circuit being used for next year’s Road World Championships races in Harrogate.

Both pelotons will cover the 14km (8.7 miles) circuit during a 132km route from Barnsley to Bedale.

It will be the second of four stages in the men’s race, which runs from 2-5 May, and first of two for the women.

“With the Worlds in Yorkshire, we’re expecting our strongest field,” said race organiser Sir Gary Verity.

“This will be the only chance the riders get to sample the Harrogate circuit under race conditions.

“I’m also proud that we’re continuing to lead the way when it comes to promoting women’s cycling. Changing the start of the women’s race from Thursday to Friday should guarantee greater exposure and the routes for the two stages are now exactly the same as the men’s.”

Christian Prudhomme, ASO’s Tour de France director, added: “Including the Harrogate circuit gives the race an added dimension and we want ‘The Yorkshire Classic’ stage of the men’s race (stage four) to become one of the most anticipated dates on the professional cycling calendar.”

The stages

  • Thursday, 2 May: Men’s stage one – Doncaster to Selby (178.5km)
  • Friday, 3 May: Men’s stage two / women’s stage one – Barnsley to Bedale (132km)
  • Saturday, 4 May: Men’s stage three / women’s stage two – Bridlington to Scarborough (132km)
  • Sunday, 5 May: Men’s stage four – Halifax to Leeds (175km)

The Tour de Yorkshire was upgraded by cycling’s governing body, the UCI, in October to HC status for the 2019 edition – the highest category for a multi-day race outside of the UCI WorldTour.

The women’s Tour de Yorkshire moved to a multi-stage event for the first time this year, having been run as a one-day race for its first two editions.

American Megan Guarnier won the 2018 race, with Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet claiming the men’s event.

The 2019 Road World Championships will run from 21-29 September.

The elite men’s road race will feature seven laps of the finishing circuit in Harrogate, with the elite women covering three laps.


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