LONDON (AFP) — Great Britain’s cycling team was thrown into turmoil after technical director Shane Sutton resigned on Wednesday, just 100 days from the start of the Rio Olympics.
Sutton succeeded Dave Brailsford as British Cycling chief in 2014, having previously guided the likes of Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins to Olympic titles and helped the team win more than 30 medals in London and Beijing across the Olympics and Paralympics.
The 58-year-old Australian quit amid allegations he had used sexist language toward female riders and made derogatory comments to disabled cyclists on the Paralympic team.
He was suspended by British Cycling late on Tuesday after it was alleged he had called Paralympic cyclists “gimps.”
That announcement came soon after British Cycling launched an independent review into claims he had been sexist in his treatment of Jess Varnish, with the sprinter saying he had told her to “go and have a baby” after her contract was not renewed.
“It is absolutely crucial that, as our athletes begin their final preparations for Rio, they are able to do so free of distraction,” said Sutton in his resignation statement. “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.”
He added he rejected all the claims made against him and looked forward to taking a full part in the review process.
Brailsford, now in charge of Team Sky, said, “Shane is one of the best tactical and technical coaches I have worked with,” adding that his contribution to British Cycling’s success “has been immense.”
Several female cyclists also spoke up for Sutton, with Britain’s Dani King, a London 2012 cycling gold medallist, telling Tuesday’s 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 Beijing gold medallist Nicole Cooke wrote in The Guardian, “I have my own personal experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess.”
However, Cooke went on to suggest there was a broader and deeper problem caused by “decades of inaction.”
“Sexism spins all the way down from the top to the bottom. Somewhere in the middle of this are Shane Sutton and Jess Varnish.”
Those words were backed up by Team Sky cyclist and double Olympic champion Geraint Thomas who, after praising Sutton’s contribution to his own career, wrote on Facebook: “The inequity issues won’t finish with Shane’s resignation/investigation, there is a problem with inequality in cycling as a whole that needs to be addressed.”
Sutton was operating in an environment where the amount of money each sport receives from national funding agency UK Sport depends mainly on their chances of podium success.
But Malaysian cyclist Joseph Ng, who said Sutton had called him “Boatie” — a reference to people sailing from Asia to seek asylum in Australian — told Britain’s Press Association: “I don’t think he has adjusted to modern society.”