Shane Sutton: British Cycling chief suspended over discrimination claims

Australian Shane Sutton joined British Cycling as a coach in 2002
Australian Shane Sutton joined British Cycling as a coach in 2002

British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton has been suspended amid an investigation into discrimination allegations.

It follows a report in the Daily Mail that claimed Sutton made derogatory comments about Para-cyclists.

Cyclist Jess Varnish previously said Sutton made sexist comments towards her and told her to "go and have a baby".

The 25-year-old said she spoke out against Australian Sutton, 58, to change attitudes at British Cycling.

Sutton, who has been a GB coach since 2002, denies Varnish's claims, which include a sexist comment about her body shape.

He says her contract was not renewed because her times had slowed over the past three years and she was unlikely to win a medal.

"There was never any talk of babies," he told The Times.

He claimed Varnish had not been "up to the job", adding: "Jess was not one of the greats. It's sad she's come out and said the things she said."

He insisted he had never used the terminology "you've got a fat arse", adding: "I'm just really upset she would say that.

"Jess is a wonderful girl, a beautiful person, I couldn't ask for any more from her on the programme. Unfortunately everything comes to an end."

British Cycling had already begun an "independent review" into its performance programmes following Varnish's comments.

Sutton told The Times he was "embracing the opportunity" to give his view, adding: "I don't think I've been heard properly from day one of this."

The interview with The Times took place before Sutton was suspended over allegations he made derogatory comments about Para-cyclists.

'We were tolerated at best'

Darren Kenny won golds at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics
Darren Kenny won golds at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics

In the Mail report, Darren Kenny, one of Britain's most decorated Para-cyclists, claims he heard members of the British disability team referred to in highly derogatory terms by Sutton.

"The attitude towards them was abysmal," said Kenny, 46, who won six Paralympic gold medals. "We were tolerated at best. The term used to refer to us was generally 'gimps', with another word in front of that.

"I know others had an issue as well with not being allowed on the track and not being given time to prepare for competitions."

Varnish, dropped from the GB team after failing to qualify for Rio, has been invited to meet the equalities officer of British Cycling to discuss her concerns.

In a statement released on Tuesday, she said she remained "open to sharing my experiences" and "will happily engage with any investigations into the comments that Shane Sutton has made to me and other riders".

'I am very grateful to him'

Trott says she cannot comment on the allegations against Sutton because she doesn't know all the facts
Trott says she cannot comment on the allegations against Sutton because she doesn't know all the facts

Olympic champions Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke both backed Varnish and criticised British Cycling.

"I know exactly how miserable they made me," said Pendleton, 35, now retired from track cycling. "I never really felt I had the same respect as my male team-mates."

Cooke, 33, a road specialist who is also retired, added: "I have my own experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess. Speak out and your dreams will be destroyed and years of hard work wasted. Or put up with it and hope."

Joanna Rowsell Shand, 27, who competes on track and road, said she was "surprised" by the allegations against Sutton and felt British Cycling's treatment of track riders was "very equal".

Fellow Olympic gold medallist Dani King, 25, said she had never been subjected to sexist comments by Sutton, a sentiment echoed by Laura Trott who said she had "only ever had a wholly positive and healthy working relationship" with him.

The 24-year-old double Olympic gold medallist from London 2012 added: "I am very grateful to him and the British cycling team for all the support and coaching they have given me over the years to get me to where I am today."

Who is Shane Sutton?

Sutton and Hoy embrace during the 2012 Games in London
Sutton and Hoy embrace during the 2012 Games in London

Sutton joined British Cycling as a coach in 2002 and was part of the team that won seven track gold medals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

He was made technical director in 2014 when predecessor Sir Dave Brailsford stepped down after a decade in charge.

Sutton, who won Commonwealth Games gold as a rider, is due to take charge of performance at the Rio Olympics, which begin on 5 August.

British Cycling is expected to announce that Andy Harrison, currently the organisation's programmes director, will take temporary charge during Sutton's suspension.

In 2009, British cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy described Sutton as his mentor and said he had been "hugely influential in my success".

The 40-year-old Scot, who went on to win a total of six Olympic golds before retiring in 2013, added: "He's the most amazing motivator and everyone in the team has a lot to thank him for."

He said Sutton, who also mentored Sir Bradley Wiggins, is "so intense that there are times that the only thing you can do is fall out with him".

Hoy added: "Half the time you want to throttle the guy and the other half you are trying to get into his good books."

Key dates in Sutton's career:

  • 1978: Wins track team pursuit gold at Commonwealth Games
  • 1984: Moves to Great Britain
  • 1990: Wins Milk Race (now Tour of Britain)
  • 2002: Joins British Cycling as coach
  • 2008: Wins coach of the year award
  • 2010: Awarded OBE in Queen's birthday honours list
  • 2012: Diagnosed with bleeding on the brain after a bike crash in Manchester
  • 2014: Appointed technical director of British Cycling after Brailsford leaves