Track sprinter Jess Varnish gives interview with Daily Mail in light of not being contracted to continue in Great Britain team
- Alleges she was told to 'get on with having a baby'
- British Cycling and team technical director Shane Sutton issue statement


Former Great Britain track sprinter Jess Varnish has said that she was subjected to ‘sexist’ comments during her time on the national team.

Varnish made the comments in an interview with the Daily Mail published on Friday evening, April 22, in light of losing her place on the Great Britain team.

According to Varnish, British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton told Varnish to ‘move on and get on with having a baby’. She also alleges that she was subjected to statement about her physical appearance.

>>> Jess Varnish dropped from British Cycling Olympic programme on ‘performance grounds’

“Don’t get me wrong, the boys don’t get it easy,’ Varnish told the Daily Mail, ‘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.”

In answer to the Daily Mail article, British Cycling and Sutton issued a joint statement on Saturday.

“I wholeheartedly deny that I said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism in my dealings with Jess,” said Sutton.

“As with all other riders on the track programme, 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 programme as an athlete with medal potential in this Olympic cycle or the next.

Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton, team sprint winners, London Track World Cup 2012, day two

Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton won the team sprint at the London Track World Cup in 2012, prior to the Olympic Games


“Jess has been a great athlete to work with and it’s important to me that the valuable contribution she made to British Cycling and women’s cycling during her time on the Great Britain Cycling Team is not forgotten.”

>>> ‘Team sprint women have not been good enough,’ says Shane Sutton after Jess Varnish criticism

British Cycling said that Varnish had not made accusations of sexism prior to the article being published.

“At no point in the performance review or the appeal process did Jess raise concerns about sexism, or any other form of discriminatory behaviour, in the Great Britain Cycling Team.

“However, we are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity. As such, we treat any such allegations with the utmost seriousness and we will be contacting Jess to offer to discuss her concerns in full.”

Watch: How to clean your road bike in seven minutes

Varnish specialised in the team sprint, individual sprint and keirin disciplines. She was part of BC’s Olympic Development Programme as a junior, and progressed through the senior ranks.

She partnered Victoria Pendleton in the team sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, but the duo were relegated after an illegal change, and missed out on riding for a medal.

Varnish and team sprint partner Katy Marchant failed to qualify a place at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after placing fifth in the Track World Championships in March.

In a subsequent television interview with the BBC, Varnish criticised the British team’s decision not to field them in more races in the lead-up to the World Championships.

  • Bob

    aww did the poor little thing get her feelings hurt? so many people are so sensitive these days, make me wonder how they survive at all in the big bad world

  • texstar

    Money and Mouth.
    Many years ago an official was criticised in the press for commenting ‘ Women don’t look right on ‘bikes, their arses are bigger than men’s.’ It does not look as if much progress has been made since then does it. Pathetic.
    Reading some of these Troll like letters makes this all too clear. I learned to respect women the hard way, overtaken by the late great Beryl Burton in TT’s. along with all the other men. She then stood at the finishing line, jacket back on, encouraging us left behinds to sprint for the line.
    I also remember a headline once in Cycling Weekly telling us to forget about the men, Britain’s greatest rider is a woman, Nicole Cook. There are others.
    Britain’s ladies have served us well bringing home Olympic and World Championship medals, I am proud of them all, their achievements and their courage in not dropping out of a male dominated sport.
    I wonder how many of their critics could beat them to the finishing line in a race, anytime anywhere.None.

  • Dave

    That would have run her into the same problems that Cooke and Pendleton raised about the institutional sexism, which they probably wouldn’t have said if Varnish hadn’t first gone public.

    At least she should have gone somewhere halfway in between and gone to a reputable paper … unless she did and they decided not to run the story.

    She has at least been partially vindicated, by having started the domino effect that exposed Sutton as not a sexist but a bully to everyone, and started a public conversation about it. People like me in the other powerhouse cycling nations are talking about it too, not just Brits.

    Apart from missing this year’s Olympics (Marchant and James are the best candidates for the two spots they have for women’s sprinters), all is not lost, especially now that Sutton is gone and there are too many questions about Brailsford to have him come back so the new head coach will probably be someone with no baggage. She can win back her place in the team by knuckling down, training hard and proving she’s up to the task of replacing one of the others if they get injured before Rio. Then after that, racing her way back into the team over the next couple of track seasons.

  • Dave

    There’s more to her form than just one set of sprint qualifying times – in an event she eventually placed third. Varnish is Britain’s second-ranked rider in the Sprint (18th in the UCI individual rankings, six places behind Marchant and one place ahead of Australia’s *fourth* rider Caitlin Ward) and also in the Keirin (31st in the UCI individual rankings, ten places behind James). She also placed third in both events (behind Marchant and James in both cases) at the last national championships.

    Her results have also been trending downwards even in her preferred event of the team sprint. Her last podium at a major international competition was a pair of third places at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, when she didn’t have to beat Vogel or Ligtlee or Guo or Cueff but still got whipped by both of the Aussies.

    Britain have not qualified for the Team Sprint and can therefore only send a total of two female sprinters to Rio*, as opposed to three if they did qualify. Varnish is the logical choice to miss out, as it makes sense to take the best Keirin rider and the Sprint rider. Olympic selection unfortunately has to be ruthlessly focused on the results.

    Perhaps there’s a long term role for her to play. The men’s team sprint is three riders, allowing for one Team Sprint specialist to be selected in addition to the riders who would contest the Sprint and Keirin (and I’d love to see the TT return to the Olympics too).
    Jess should join up with Kaarle McCulloch (possibly missing the Olympics this year if Australia only take Anna Meares and Stephanie Morton) to lobby Brian Cookson (GB, UCI President) and Tracey Gaudry (AUS, UCI Vice-President and President of the UCI Women’s Commission) to increase the women’s version of the Team Sprint to three laps like the men’s version. The Aussies would be on board with this, after 12 years of watching the heroics of Anna Meares they have a whole bunch of young sprinters coming through and they would love to put an extra rider to the plane to Tokyo.

    * They could, in theory, use ‘the Cav loophole’ and register her in the Road Race or Team Pursuit so she could enter using GB’s second entry for the Sprint. That would be illogical though, sacrificing their chances in events they could be targeting for medals just to qualify a rider who will be lucky to make the quarter-finals of the Sprint.

  • ummm…

    Well, I’d say that she was one of the straws that broke the camels back. And, we’d have to believe her if only for a preponderance of evidence. I’d say that if these allegations are true it shows that he is incapable of managing as he needs the confidence of his athletes. It shows that he lacks sensitivity. It shows that he may not be fit to manage. What it doesnt prove is that “sexism” is a scourge that oppresses the individual or the gender as a whole. We have people on this board proclaiming yet again the specter of sexism in cycling and I’d like to be shown that “Sexism” in cycling is a cancer. Where is it? Where is cycling promoting the oppression of women?

    Anyhow, good conversation. You make some very good points.

  • dougles

    Thank you for such a good answer.

    I’m quite glad I didn’t rush to respond, as it appears that Sutton has now resigned after further allegations were made of him being a total arsehole.

    Your points are valid for the most part, but in this situation it appears that siding with Varno was correct.

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    Is English your first language?

  • Gooner

    You said someone got to be lying so someone is certain to be lying in your opinion so you are not tellling the truth on what you said.

  • Gooner

    To make it clear, I am not saying Shane Sutton is right or supporting him but I disapprove of a character assasination on him when not all facts are known on both sides. I don’t think either side comes out well and Varnish should have dealt with it in house entirely imo. This needs to be sorted out rapidly and the truth outed. Good that UK Sport are pressurising British Cycling for a full enquiry. Comments by ex pros are not all that helpful at this stage imo. This may have seriously harmed our RIO prospects in cycling already but good if the air is cleared.

  • Gooner

    Well you seem pretty sure and you are still suggesting someone is to blame. You are also trying to wriggle out.

  • NitroFan

    Not sure we shall ever know the full facts of the matter.

  • JohnGip

    Out of interest these are the flying 200 times from the 2015 National Champs:
    Katy Marchant 11.030
    Jessica Varnish 11.149
    Victoria Williamson 11.270
    Rebecca James 11.294

    Varnish is the only one of the 4 (to date) who’s been told she’s not fast enough. Curious as to the data that justifies her exclusion.

  • JohnGip

    Out of interest these are the flying 200 times from the 2015 National Champs:
    Katy Marchant 11.030
    Jessica Varnish 11.149
    Victoria Williamson 11.270
    Rebecca James 11.294

    Varnish is the only one of the 4 (to date) who’s been told she’s not fast enough.

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    “so called expert” ? Sorry, have I missed something? Who called who an expert?

  • JohnGip

    Unfortunately I think you are right accusations of sexism should have been taken to the BC board of directors not the Daily Mail.

  • JohnGip

    As I outline in another response below the “proof” is that Varnish has been the fastest 1-lap rider GB has had during the past 5 years. You might feel that now she’s lost that at the ‘old age’ of 25 (Pendleton was over 30 in 2012), but there’s no evidence of that from her performances and its BC/Sutton that isn’t releasing the data to confirm that to Varnish. It does seem the sour grapes started with the actions of BC in response to criticism as to how they had (mis-)managed their strategy in the qualifying events for Rio.

  • TurWAATchers Legacy

    Well that’s one way to commit professional suicide.

  • JohnGip

    So what “figures” are we talking about? Sutton won’t release them to Varnish, but what we do know is that Varnish rode at World Record pace in 2012 and i the past 3 years she has ridden against the French squad on 9 occasions and been faster that their first rider on every occasion. BUT the French have a team sprint entry for Rio and GB don’t because of a management error by Sutton and his team that meant we didn’t get enough UCI points and thats what Varnish spoke out against and got penalised for.

    I think it says something that Norfolk likens the dispute to a jilted “ex-grilfriend”, but doesn’t consider that the Sutton/BC behaviour is like a “boyfriend who can’t take criticism”. After the screw-up by BC regarding Team Sprint points Varnish should have been offered a ride off against Marchant and James for the Match Sprint & Keirin places. I think thats all she wanted.

  • ummm…

    Thank you for the “kudos” but the very fact that you did not expect a response of minimal thought shows how pre determined your biases MAY be. Gender studies can be an echo chamber and it can sometimes blind one to differing arguments. Gender studies has yet to enter into a full throated dialogue with all differing opinions and therefore many times lives in the land of limited peer review. Not to say it that it has no worth. I still attend debates, but now they tend to be more combative and center around gendered interests justifying themselves. Not a good sign. A lesson can be learned from this trend. Now to your points:

    – She is a young woman on a WOMENS olympic team. Surely, not male – and we would have to quantify the term “male dominance”. Possibly many of her coaches, physios etc. are men. Does that mean that women are not allowed, that women are not qualified, or that women are not interested? That is a discussion to have – but you imply that their is a gate that says “NO WOMAN ALLOWED” outside british cycling. I find that simplistic argument troublesome. We all now that their is probably an interplay of womens interest, womens ability, and to some degree the newness of women looking for these roles that effect the staff make up. Do we have the stats that show it is male dominated at the managing level – and why that may be the case? I dont, do you? I am not against an argument that states that certain social headwinds may “limit” women in sport at the moment.

    – You say that even if I was in the same situation, which I have been in my life, I STILL couldn’t understand. I’m not sure that this point doesn’t cancel itself out. I’m not sure whether you presented an argument to support this supposition.

    – By suggesting that her not speaking at all is a not a problem only goes to show that women need to have agency, self respect etc. before they claim that they have been ripped of their agency and self respect. Saying that there is a threat of rebuke is not the same as saying one cannot make a stand.

    – I have complete re: for people of differing experiences. In fact that is what got me interested in gender studies over a decade and a half ago. Its trajectory (especially 3rd wave fem) has been exponentially troubling. I can remember having discussion in my teen years with my philo prof and our gender studies class (largely women) about the conflicted role of men in the dialogue, as men are integral. Now we dont even have that discussion as you keep insisting that i shouldnt be allowed a voice. THAT IS TROUBLESOME AND UNACADEMIC. We see this playing out on campuses. There are countless discussion now centering around the idea of gender activism as fascism, and I’d say in many ways it has become that if not only because of their rejection of fair and balanced argumentation when it comes to men or issues outside of “white middle class women” I do hate to color this argument with race, but it is a problem that the field itself is now aware of i.e. intersectionality (unfortunately intersectionality only proves to try to pivot the conversation so that the same tired ideas can be reconciled with what appears to be an apparent class and race problem in the field)

    – I myself am an interacial child, I myself have a parent that grew up in a 3rd world country. I am part of a family with 2 religions, 2 “Races”, 4 skin colors, and started lower middle class and are all quite comfortable. Along the way, and in the future, we learn things. I am very well aware of the limitations “homogenous” folk in have in understanding the argument of another – THAT is not an issue that I have. My very existence makes in imperative that I always question and interrogate the established idea.

    – I’m sure there were “gendered” comments expressed to men. Men aren’t as willing to extrapolate larger dynamics because men have not had the seed planted in their head they they are disadvantaged purely for their anatomy. Keep in mind that women are now the majority of uni students, earn more than men in the 20-40ish age bracket, dont suffer from suicide or incarceration like men do etc. Men dont have it easy either, but we tend to not JUST blame our experiences on gender. One must transcend.

    – Yes it is a government operation. What is the janatorial staff made of? If they are largely made of brown skinned people then shoudl we be condoning an organization that does not reflect the prominence of brown skinned people and only allows them to clean the mess? Is it the fault of brown skinned people that they arent represented, the fault of managment, or a bit of both?

    – People make comments. If you dont agree the onus IS ON YOU to defend yourself. That is called agency. Women ask for it. Use it.

    – I undestand what victim blaming is. But your definition is too encompassing as it loses its effect. We all can claim victomology of some sort. What specific dynamics do yo allude to with your summoning of the term “victim blaming”

    You have the ability to right the wrongs of the gender lobby tactics. You are a “certified” member of the conversation. So you can either move lock step towards making yourselves further enclosed and antagonistic to free thought, or you can challenge ideas and right the ship. Good luck with your studies and your writing. But, please, when you are showing great deference to women, please also do so to men and other ideas. be well.

  • dougles

    Brilliant example of the casual sexism that Sutton is accused of using. Excellent work.

  • dougles

    Well that was a more considered and erudite response than I was expecting! I do see your point, but everything that you say can be countered.

    She was a young woman, in a male dominated situation. Unless you are in that same situation (and even then), you cannot understand what pressures there may have been *not* to speak out. By suggesting that by not speaking out, it was all ok, is classic victim blaming. By suggesting that it’s not a real thing, and just some term that gets thrown around, highlights the degree to which you have missed the point, and the lack of regard that you appear to have for the different experiences of people who may not be in your position.
    Prejudice based on gender, sexuality, race, disability etc are all very real to a lot of people, and suggesting that people ought to ‘toughen up’ and deal with it is offensive.

    You’re right, of course – people don’t have the right to not be offended. However, these comments were made in a workplace of a funded organisation which should be at the forefront of promoting equality and tolerance, and instead it just seems that it’s as much of a boys’ club as the rest of cycling. She cites specific gendered comments that they made (unless you think they would have told a man to ‘go and have a baby’), so your point on it not being ‘gendered treatment’ is moot.

    The onus is not on her to defend herself from these comments, or do something about them at the time; it is for people not to make the comments in the first place.

    Just because you find that you can go through life with words flying off you like water off a duck’s back in no way suggests that other people should have to.

    To go back to your first point – you don’t appear to understand what it is. You understand what the term means, but don’t see how it applies to real life. I suspect I might have more of a vivid understanding of it as I’m writing this comment on a break between writing about the very subject for a Masters.

  • ummm…

    I understand what it is very well. Possibly more so than you, unless you have a degree or work in the field.

    What is wrong with your argument is that you assume that ANY form of minor/major offense that includes gendered ideas goes far enough to make one completely incapable of protecting themselves lest a huge patriarchal machine crushes one.

    He said some off color comments about having babies etc. I suppose that 1) these were so damaging for her delicate soul – in which case she needs to live in a bubble (keeping in mind she said the males didn’t actually get much better treatment as it is a meat grinder at these places) 2) If her boss says these things and she does not approach the appropriate people at that moment or speak to him then she must be fine living in that situation. She weighed the pros and cons and decided to fight through. 3) The pressures that may have induced her to stay silent (keeping in mind that these are just unkind words) are not lost on me. However, either we stand up for ourselves or we dont. After being fired is not the best time to complain about WORDS.

    Maybe she should have not made such a noise on the way out, and then dropped this bomb because the optics look very bad. Do i empathize with people that have been SPOKEN too in this way? Yes, I have as this has happened to me, as well as touching. Should we be protected from the offensive thoughts of another? No, not in a sane world. Should she have gone to the international press and made accusations of unkind words AFTER THE FACT and now have turned this into a gendered issue? No. It is gendered because we now have words such as “victim blaming” being parroted. It is gendered because this is going to somehow show that she has it bad because she is a woman – even as she says that whatever treatment she got was not gender specific.

    She is a victim like we all are. We all walk through life and come up against harsh criticisms and short sighted people. If we are all walking around as victims, and need a special interest group to protect us, then we are in trouble. I’m not sure of the goals of her strategy beyond just throwing poo at her old boss.

  • Norfolk_n_Chance

    Varnish didn’t hit the figures….

    and needs to learn how to deal with rejection rather than fight…. like an angry ex-girlfriend traded in for the newer younger more exciting model. Deal with it and move on!

  • dougles

    That’s exactly what it is. It suggests that if it was such a problem, she should have done something about it. Ignoring the things which may have prevented her doing so.

    Do you understand what victim blaming is?

  • ummm…

    Saying that somebody should have spoken up about any off color remarks earlier is not victim blaming. AND SHE IS A VICTIM OF WHAT?!!? WORDS?!?!?!

  • CyberTonTo72

    It is a shame that CW is quoting a rag like the daily mail …:(

  • dougles

    They don’t need to explicitly say that she ‘should have said earlier’. As human beings, we’re able to ‘read between the lines’, and the implication was clear. It’s victim blaming.

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    I hardly think the word “inclined” suggests certainty.

  • llos25

    If what she says is true then SS should be on a slow boat back to the Antipides.

  • Leodis75

    Maybe if she put in as much effort with her performances likes she does with her random press releases she would do well.

  • Gooner

    Absolute rubbish! No assertion was made that she should have made the issue earlier. It was just said it hadn’t been made earlier. Too many ‘experts’ with axes to grind on Sutton it seems.

  • Gooner

    Another so called expert ready to put the blame and tarnish on Shane Sutton. I wonder what proof these so called experts have? Ridiculous until the proof is out to pee on Sutton or to believe only Varnish without proof. Has an element of sour grapes what Varnish said at mo.

  • Gary Jogela

    It’s tough at the top apparently (I wouldn’t know). Shane Sutton does come over as a pretty harsh straight talking compassionless person from what I’ve seen and heard on the box

  • Gooner

    If you are so sure abour the liar, prove it!

  • dougles

    The assertion that she should have said something sooner if she was experiencing sexism is classic victim blaming as well.

    I’m with Varno on this one.

  • Rupert the Super Bear

    The Mail is one of those papers like the Mirror which loves negative stories about cycling, so it’s a shame Jess has spoken to this particular newspaper. However I very much believe the essense of what she has been saying is true. Frankly I think anybody that has come remotely close to Shane Sutton and his immediate team will know who to believe.

    I would imagine journalists at CW know the truth of the matter too.

  • Rupert the Super Bear

    Don’t you join the crap as well matey

  • addie Baaddiee

    She needs to stop moaning

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    So someone’s got to be lying. I know who I’d be inclined to believe.