British cycling boss quits after claims of bullying, sexism

File photo of Shane Sutton at the London 2012 Olympic Games men's omnium 1km time trial cycling event, in London.
File photo of Shane Sutton at the London 2012 Olympic Games men's omnium 1km time trial cycling event, in London.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Shane Sutton has resigned as technical director of British Cycling after allegations of discrimination and bullying behaviour towards women and disabled cyclists, plunging the sport into turmoil before the Rio Olympics.

The Australian stepped down after initial claims of sexist behaviour were followed by allegations that he called para-cyclists "gimps" and "wobblies".

UK Sport, the government body that has provided £30.5 million (S$59.8 million) in funding to British Cycling before Rio, is to hold an inquiry into the allegations.

The inquiry will investigate the running of one of the country's most successful Olympic teams, and may probe reports that £10,000 road bikes have gone missing and Team GB performance kit has been sold online.

Some riders have also expressed unhappiness with the culture and leadership of the cycling team.

Sutton, 58, has denied the claims but said that the allegations had become "a distraction". He has promised to co-operate with the inquiry.

The first claims of sexism came from cyclist Jessica Varnish, who alleges that she was told to "go and have a baby" after her contract was not renewed, and that she was also told her bottom was too big.

Darren Kenny, a 10-time Paralympic medal winner, made the accusations that Sutton called para-cyclists derogatory names.

Kenny told The Daily Mail: "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."

Liz Nicholl, UK Sport's chief executive, said that such language, if it was proved to have been used, was "unacceptable".

Former British Cycling chief Dave Brailsford said: "Shane is one of the best tactical and technical coaches I have worked with."

Several female cyclists also spoke up for Sutton, with Britain's Dani King, a London 2012 cycling gold medallist, telling the London Evening Standard: "Shane is a no-nonsense kind of guy. But he was no-nonsense with the men as well as the women."

But Malaysian cyclist Joseph Ng, who said Sutton had called him "Boatie" - a reference to people sailing from Asia to seek asylum in Australian - said: "I don't think he has adjusted to modern society."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'British cycling boss quits after claims of bullying, sexism'. Print Edition | Subscribe