Jess Varnish wins right to appeal in British Cycling case

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
Jess Varnish
Jess Varnish appeared at her employment tribunal against British Cycling last December while seven months pregnant

Former Great Britain cyclist Jess Varnish has won the right to an appeal hearing in her employment case against British Cycling.

The 29-year-old failed in an initial attempt to contest her tribunal defeat in January but an appeal can now be heard, probably within six months.

Varnish argued that she should be considered an employee of British Cycling or the funding agency UK Sport.

But the initial hearing ruled her funding was like a university grant.

Varnish said: "We could easily have walked away after the original decision went against us. However, I believe we're doing the right thing by not giving up."

The former European team sprint champion and world silver medallist attempted to prove she was an employee to allow her to sue both bodies for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination after being dropped by Great Britain for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Former British Cycling performance director Shane Sutton was found to have used sexist language towards her, but was cleared of eight of nine allegations against him.

Sutton was also accused of bullying during the adjourned tribunal of former British Cycling medic Dr Richard Freeman.

The Australian strenuously denied those claims.

Varnish's appeal hearing could either overturn the decision of the first tribunal, or order a new one to take place.

Her lawyer Simon Fenton said: "This is a small, but important, step in holding British Cycling to account for its treatment of Jess during her cycling career and its abrupt and unfair ending.

"Although this is a small victory, it is significant in light of the revelations from the Freeman case which raised questions of serious bullying at the heart of British Cycling."

Varnish added: "I want to give athletes an opportunity to hold to account employees of governing bodies, who they interact with on a daily basis, and have significant control over their careers and opportunities.

"I continue to think it's unfair that athletes still have no structured means to do this, and I hope this appeal will be the first step towards affecting change, and bring about a fairer, more modern high performance system in the UK where athlete welfare is not just a soundbite, but something that we all believe in."

A British Cycling spokesman said: "The decision to contest this case has always been founded on our view that the true picture of our relationship with riders who represent this country is not one of employer-employee but that of an organisation supporting talented and dedicated athletes to achieve their best.

"This view was supported in law by the decision of the first tribunal.

"We will continue to represent what we believe are the best interests of every rider currently supported through the high performance system, and all those in our sport who hope to one day compete at an Olympics or Paralympics.

"We very much regret that Jess has been advised to pursue the route of an employment tribunal when other avenues were available to her. The culture of the Great Britain Cycling Team has changed for the better since Jess first raised what everyone recognises as legitimate concerns."

March 2017: Varnish 'relieved truth is coming out'

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