Former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford has responded to Nicole Cooke’s allegations of sexism at British Cycling, saying that he ran a regime that was “not sexist, but definitely ‘medallist'”.
Writing in The Times, Brailsford admitted that there will always be things that can be improved, but that he was proud of the success that British Cycling enjoyed under his tutelage.
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An independent review examining the culture of the national governing body is due to be released in the coming weeks, and Brailsford has came out in staunch defence of British Cycling and the way in which it operates.
“We were not sexist, but we were definitely ‘medallist’,” the organisation’s performance director until 2014, said. “That is why we pushed for equal number of male and female events so our elite female athletes could have the same maximum chance of success as their male counterparts.
“It is why we created the women’s professional road team — Team Halfords — in 2008 which led to a gold medal in Beijing and was described as critical to that success. It is why British Cycling has won as many female medals as male ones since 2008.”
Reflecting on how Great Britain infamously only won a single gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, which preceded the advent of Lottery funding, Brailsford says that to achieve the level of success cycling in the country has since the mid-1990s meant that a “ruthless approach” to increase the chance of world class performance was necessary, and that applied to riders and coaches.
He continued: “Lottery money obviously changed the landscape. But it is easy to spend money and fail. It is harder to align investment with a high-performance culture that delivers consistent success year after year, Games after Games.
“I was, and still am, an advocate of UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ ethos. It is a ruthless approach and one that is completely meritocratic. Focus on the podium. Leave no stone unturned.
“Demonstrate you can win medals and you keep your funding. Stop winning and you lose it. It could not be clearer what was expected and what would happen if you didn’t deliver. So yes — winning, but not winning at all costs.”
Brailsford explained how BC would only focus on riders with medal potential in World Championships and Olympics and certain riders would receive greater investment. Coaches, too, had to be “one of the best three in the world at what they did” and if they weren’t, or were unable to demonstrate that they could do better, “they would inevitably have to leave, as some did”.
“I know all this was hard for some to accept and it resulted in disappointment and resentment,” Team Sky‘s manager conceded. “I know this put some people’s noses out of joint but my remit was to help make us the best in the world not simply support the best in Britain.
“Elite sport is by definition not sport for all. It is edgy and it is difficult. There are fine lines between success and failure. Only the very few can make it.
“Sometimes behaviours would fall short of the high standards we set — as they do in any organisation. The challenge was how best to deal with it, recognising that the welfare of everyone involved was paramount.
“And for me that meant being compassionately ruthless. It was not a choice between winning or welfare. It had to be both.”