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British Cycling labels Damian Collins' criticism 'ill-informed'

British Cycling labels Damian Collins' criticism 'ill-informed'
By PA Sport

15/06/2017 at 23:27Updated 15/06/2017 at 23:37

British Cycling has labelled Damian Collins' criticism of the organisation "ill-informed" and claims he has not considered the changes under way at the governing body.

The MP called for the dethroning of Brian Cookson as president of cycling's world governing body following the damning independent review into the Great Britain cycling team.

Collins, who is standing for re-election as the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in the new parliament, was reacting to the publication of the review.

The independent review, which took 14 months to report, was critical of British Cycling, former technical director Shane Sutton and funding agency UK Sport, but its chair Annamarie Phelps denied its contents had been toned down from an earlier leaked draft.

Yet British Cycling said in a statement issued on Thursday evening: "Damian Collins MP's criticisms of British Cycling are ill-informed and do not take account of the changes under way at the organisation.

"In accordance with the requirements of the new Code for Sports Governance, and as we announced last week, a number of board members will be stepping down following the EGM in July when the National Council votes to approve board changes. Seventy per cent of the board will therefore change as a result.

"Change is very much in train at British Cycling. Damian Collins would be very welcome to come to the National Cycling Centre, whenever he would like, to understand and witness the transformation that is under way."

Collins had called for the resignation of British Cycling chairman Jonathan Browning and the British Cycling board members who presided over the period investigated.

Cookson was British Cycling president until September 2013, when he was elected head of the UCI. He is standing for re-election in September.

''In light of the findings of the independent review, I do not believe that Brian Cookson should be re-elected as head of the UCI - he certainly shouldn't receive any support from UK Sport for his campaign,'' Collins said in a statement on Thursday.

''There also needs to be a complete change in the governance structure of British Cycling - none of the members of the board from the period covered in the investigation should remain, which would mean that Jonathan Browning should stand aside from his position as chairman.''

Meanwhile, Shane Sutton told the independent panel investigating claims of bullying and discrimination within the Great Britain cycling team that he argued to keep Jess Varnish on the programme against her coaches' advice.

British Cycling's ex-technical director claimed he was eventually persuaded to let Varnish go when the three coaches provided data to show the track sprinter was no longer world class.

This, however, came shortly after Varnish had criticised her coaches for inconsistent selections in the women's team sprint event which left her just short of qualifying for the Rio Games.

The shock of her exit, and Sutton's blunt comments about her no longer being worth funding in an interview with the Telegraph, led her to tell the Daily Mail the Australian had used sexist language towards her and was responsible for the team's "culture of fear".

It was those allegations, coupled with claims of a similar nature from three other former riders, that led to the commissioning of an independent investigation into the "climate and culture" of British sport's most successful team and a British Cycling inquiry into Varnish's complaint against Sutton.

They also led to Sutton's suspension and prompt resignation, and ultimately an overhaul of British Cycling's leadership and codes of conduct.

The independent panel's report into the saga was published on Wednesday and was highly critical of British Cycling and Sutton - but not as critical as an earlier draft from February, which was leaked to the Daily Mail in March.

Several allegations were removed from the draft, cutting its length by seven pages, and many of the sections about Sutton were more nuanced. This was a result of Sutton's response to the draft in a process known as Maxwellisation, which gives those criticised in reports the right to reply.

Press Association Sport has seen extracts of Sutton's response, which raised at least a dozen objections to the February draft.

Regarding Varnish, Sutton said: "It has in fact been minuted at (British Cycling) that (I) was the only person from a four-person panel that had reservations about the departure of (Varnish) until the coaching team produced the relevant and overwhelming performance-based evidence.

"A decision that has retrospectively been justified given the performances of Olympic medallists Becky James and Katie Marchant. (Varnish) could only qualify 17th at the world championships held in London last year."

In response to claims he had "favourites" on the team or was biased against Varnish, he said: "Equipment was ALWAYS provided on the basis of where a particular athlete and/or squad was in qualification terms for the upcoming Olympic Games, and had nothing whatsoever to do with alleged favouritism.

"In fact, in the case of (Varnish), she was provided a full Olympic-grade skinsuit and helmet at the 2016 London World Track Championships, which is a clear demonstration that (I) was committed to her success."

The main thrust of all of Sutton's objections to the report, though, are that the draft lacked balance in terms of input from his many admirers and a belief that the whole exercise was biased against him.

Varnish's lawyer Tom Barnard told Press Association Sport his client was "disappointed" by the report, particularly as she was not given the same opportunity to respond to criticism as Sutton and others.

Barnard, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, also said she was considering her legal options.