MILAN (VN) — British Cycling suspended its successful director Shane Sutton just 100 days before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics over a deepening discrimination row. He is accused of making derogatory comments toward females and para-cyclists. Later on Wednesday, Sutton officially tendered his resignation.
“I believe it is in the best interests of British Cycling for me to step down from my position as technical director,” Sutton said “The developments over the past few days have clearly become a distraction. It is for this reason, and having spoken to friends and family, that I believe it is in the best interests of British Cycling for me to step down from my position as technical director.”
Darren Kenny, a Paralympic gold medalist, said he and others were regularly referred to as “gimps.” Four days ago, Jess Varnish said Sutton told her to “go away and have a baby” when he refused to renew her place on the team.
The federation banned Sutton overnight as it investigates the claims. The cycling superpower must act quickly if it intends to continue its domination at the upcoming Rio Games, which start August 5.
“British Cycling is announcing the formation of an independent review, in conjunction with UK Sport, of the federation’s performance programs following allegations of discriminatory behavior,” reads a statement from the federation. “We are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity and we must take any such allegations seriously.”
In an update, British Cycling added, “Shane Sutton has been suspended pending an internal investigation into the allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.”
The Australian has helped steer British Cycling since 2002 to its large medal haul, which included nine track cycling medals at the 2012 London Olympics. Sutton coached Bradley Wiggins and others in the early years of Team Sky, seeing Wiggins to his 2012 Tour de France victory.
For his efforts, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with the title Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2010.
Sutton took over the coaching program when David Brailsford stepped away from British Cycling to focus solely on running Sky.
The hierarchy could quickly change, however, if recent press reports prove true. The Daily Mail published an article last Friday and quoted Varnish as saying, “Don’t get me wrong, the boys don’t get it easy, but I can’t imagine him [Sutton] saying something to one of the men about their body shape or telling them to go off and have a baby.”
British Cycling announced it would investigate, but moved to suspend Sutton after The Daily Mail published comments Tuesday from Kenny.
“We were tolerated at best,” Kenny said. “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.”
Sutton has yet to comment on the latest comments, but he did respond after the Varnish article appeared last week.
“I wholeheartedly deny that I said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism in my dealings with Jess,” Sutton said.
“As with all other riders on the track program, she was subject to a performance review following the worlds and the data did not justify Jess retaining a lottery-funded place on the podium program as an athlete with medal potential in this Olympic cycle or the next.”
Wednesday also saw fresh claims of discrimination after Malaysian cyclist Josiah Ng, the 2010 Commonwealth Games keirin champion, said Sutton had called him “Boatie” — a term which could be taken as a reference to people sailing from Asia to seek asylum in Australia.
Ng said he did not think Sutton had meant to be racist, writing on Facebook: “Shane used to always call me ‘boatie.’
“I could have taken offense (sic) and maybe I should have but I choose to shrug it off as his twisted sense of humor.”