The chair of embattled British Cycling, Bob Howden, has stepped down from his post two months after being re-elected and been replaced by non-executive director and ex-Jaguar boss Jonathan Browning.
Howden, who will continue in his role as president of the organisation, has been chair of British Cycling since 2013 when then president Brian Cookson left to take up his current role as president of the UCI. He has been on the board since 2000.
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He was unanimously re-elected as chair at the beginning of December last year, when Browning, his replacement was elected as vice-chair.
The minutes of that meeting on December 7 note that Howden “commented on the need to consider matters of governance over the coming months and specifically the matter of the appointment of the Chair by the board”.
Howden said his decision to step aside now was because the chair and president roles had become too big for one person to fulfil.
When asked why he didn’t step down in December, Howden said: “Because there is a lot that has happened since December in terms of work load commitments, it’s pure capacity around that aspect of it.”
Howden’s move is the latest in a string of changes at the top of the organisation. Last October, chief executive Ian Drake announced he would be leaving his post in April, though he later hastened his departure and left last month.
The organisation has also halved the size of its executive leadership committee from eight to four senior staff members – a move that had been planned for some time to improve communication across the organisation.
All this comes as British Cycling has endured a torrid 12 months of scandals. A report into allegations of a culture of sexism and discrimination, first made last spring, is expected to be published next month and it is still part to a UK Anti-Doping investigation into allegations of wrongdoing surrounding a medical package couriered by a BC staffer to team Sky and the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011.
Howden denied his departure had anything to do with either the UKAD investigation or the impending culture report.
Addressing the culture report he said: “It has got nothing to do with that process it’s a case of looking at the needs analysis going forward. It has been about restructuring the management team we’ve also had a [UK Sport] Governance Code and the implications of that.”
He went on to defend his record in promoting diversity at BC.
“In terms of my personal commitment around diversity, one of my election pillars for the presidency was to improve our diversity I’ve been organising women’s senior elite level races for 12 years including National Championships… Certainly in terms of moving forward that’s a mantra I’m still pushing, to maintain that forward momentum. We take whatever comes our way in terms of the culture report,” he said.
Howden also recently came under pressure during his performance at the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, which was investigating doping in sport, in December.
On the morning of the meeting the BC chair was given permission by UK Anti-Doping to talk about the Dauphine package and to disclose what he knew but when repeatedly asked what was in it Howden said he did not know and had been told by UKAD not to ask.
His responses led on MP on the committee to tell him to “get his act together” and “prove he was up to the job”.
When asked if the Select Committee performance had influenced his decision he said: “No. No influence whatsoever, most people who work with me will say I’m probably as resilient as you will find in respect to things like that.
“Obviously one of the issues there was what we were not able to say [what was in the package] and UKAD don’t allow us to comment or be involved in any process, it was a challenge to then face contradictory information. We acted in good faith on instructions we had before that meeting. Coming away from that meeting I didn’t feel any additional pressure.”
The appointment of Browning, who is currently a non-executive director, as an independent chair will, Howden said, “bring British Cycling more closely in line with the new Code for Sports Governance” issued by UK Sport last October.
He said: “It is also an important step in work that has been going on for some time in updating the structures of the organisation to ensure we have the capacity to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.”
Browning, a former president and chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America and managing director of Jaguar Cars who joined BC in March 2015, said now was “an important moment in British Cycling’s history”.
He said: “British Cycling has delivered tremendous success for the sport at every level over the past two decades, but there is clearly work to do to take the organisation to the next level.
“I look forward to working with the executive leadership team, including our new performance director Stephen Park, to do just that. Recruitment for a new chief executive is going well and we expect to make a further announcement in the next few weeks.”
Browning was chief executive of VW Group of America while it was manufacturing the cars that would go on to be the subject of an emissions cheating scandal that has seen it pay out tens of billions of dollars in fines and settlements.
Browning pointed out that he joined in 2010, after the engines that cheated the tests were designed, and left in 2013, before the rigging was uncovered.
When asked if he would be more vigilant as chair of BC he said: “The role as chairman is obviously a really important one in driving the oversight of the organization… It is absolutely our intention to have the right levels of governance and transparency.”