Brian Cookson says more 'heads must roll' at British Cycling as CEO leaves

Former UCI and British Cycling president says BC chair needs to take some responsibility for ‘unfortunate controversies’ in 2022

Brian Cookson at the Rio Olympics
(Image credit: Bryn Lennon / Getty)

Former UCI and British Cycling president Brian Cookson has called for current British Cycling chair Frank Slevin to take responsibility for a series of controversies in 2022 and leave. 

Yesterday morning, British Cycling confirmed that CEO Brian Facer had left his position with immediate effect by “mutual agreement” with the board of directors. 

However, Cookson told Cycling Weekly that he feels Frank Slevin also needs to be held accountable for the governing body’s decision making. 

“The chair needs to take some responsibility for this. I have no confidence in him to continue, I think he should go,” he said. “Now we have a structure imposed on us by UK Sport and the reality is we have a chairman who has effectively come from outside the sport, presumably appointed for his business expertise. The problem as I see it is that we’re governed by people who don’t really have a background in that sport, pastime, activity and I don’t know what they’re motivated by,” he added.

Cookson said: “Frank Slevin is almost invisible from what I can see. I think he needs to take some responsibility for some of these unfortunate controversies that have happened during his tenure." 

British Cycling has endured an annus horribilis with a series of decisions being made that have led to widespread unhappiness about the organisation's work.

Earlier this year it sparked controversy by blocking trans riders from competing, then in September it issued guidance saying that cyclists should not ride their bikes on the day of the Queen’s funeral before swiftly u-turning. 

Controversy continued to dog the national governing body when British Cycling recently announced an eight year partnership with oil and gas giant Shell

Cookson explained to Cycling Weekly that conversations with various people in cycling revealed to him that many are “unhappy with the way that British Cycling has been managed and governed” in recent years which was reflected in the membership.

“I do think that it seems inexplicable to me that the chairman and the board were unaware of the implications of the things that have happened and that have been so controversial,” he said. “I think that some heads have to roll." 

BRITISH CYCLING REACHES LOWEST POINT FOR 30 YEARS

Cookson said that alienation of British Cycling’s membership is something that he feels has affected the organisation for many years. Cookson pointed to former CEO Julie Harrington, who was employed between 2017 and 2020, as playing a detrimental role.

“Julie Harrington got rid of a lot of really good people that had been involved with British Cycling for a long time like Jonny Clay,” he said. “I think the outcome of that was a hollowing out of the organisation and a reduction in understanding of the very sport and pastime that the organisation purports to govern,” he added.  

When approached by Cycling Weekly Harrington declined to comment.

The former president explained that he believes that there are “some really good people involved” at British Cycling across all levels and that he believes “they deserve to be supported better than they are by the people who are leading the organisation at the moment”.

Cookson said that the current state of affairs at British Cycling bore similarities to the events of 1996 in which there was a vote of no confidence in the board when the organisation was heading towards financial ruin.

“Previously for all our faults and flaws, people on the board were through and through cyclists. You could cut them in half and it would say ‘I’m a cyclist’ across their middle like a stick of rock,” he said.

'THE ORGANISATION IS GOING BACKWARDS'

The British team at the World Championships

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Lancaster Grand Prix race organiser said it “grieves” him to see the lack of empathy towards the people who “make our sport happen on a day to day basis”.

“They feel absolutely let down by the board and the way in which some of the senior management have behaved," he said.

He added: “The organisation is going backwards now and that’s something I never thought I’d see happen. This isn’t about me, I don’t want to come back to be president of British Cycling or chairman of the board or anything like that. I’m retired, I’m happy and enjoying life."

Cookson also revealed to Cycling Weekly that his understanding is that the dissatisfaction with the governance of British Cycling also extends to a higher international level.

“I can tell you that from what I gather, the UCI doesn’t have a lot of time for the current leadership of British Cycling either,” Cookson said.

Cookson reiterated that he has no plans to seek a return to BC office amongst the current upheaval at the organisation. 

“I don't want this to be about me, because it's not about me. Nobody has got a wonderful magic wand to wave. Although what we’ve got to get back is our organisation, British Cycling, needs to be run by people who have a passion for cycling in all its wonderful forms. Nobody ever said that British Cycling was perfect, nobody ever said that it didn’t need to change, but it needs accountability to the people who make the sport happen,” he concluded.

British Cycling's full statement confirming departure of CEO Brian Facer: 

Brian Facer is to step down as British Cycling CEO with immediate effect, by mutual agreement with the Board of Directors.

The search for a new CEO has now commenced, with Cycling Delivery Director Danielle Every appointed as Acting CEO in the interim.

 British Cycling Chair, Frank Slevin, said:

 “We remain fully committed to the delivery of our ‘Lead our sport, inspire our communities’ strategy, as we continue our work to support and grow our sport and wider activities, and provide our Great Britain Cycling Team riders with the best possible platform for success.

 “Our new CEO will join the organisation at an exciting time as we build towards next year’s inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in Scotland, and the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024.”

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1