Former track sprinter Jess Varnish loses appeal in British Cycling case

Varnish has been embroiled in a year-long legal battle to try and sue British Cycling and UK Sport

Jess Varnish has appealed against the recent employment tribunal decision (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The former track sprinter Jess Varnish has lost her appeal in her case against British Cycling.

Varnish had taken British Cycling and UK Sport to an employment tribunal in the hopes of proving she was an employee of the organisations, to then sue them.

The 29-year-old wanted to see governing body BC and funding agency UK Sport for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

In January Varnish lost her employment tribunal after the judge ruled in favour British Cycling and UK Sport, prompting her to launch an appeal.

On Tuesday (July 14) judge Mr Justice Choudhury ruled in favour of British Cycling once again, saying the original tribunal "had not erred in its approach to the assessment of employee status.”

Varnish had claimed British Cycling had “extreme control” over her and other athletes and that she was discriminated against by former coach Shane Sutton.

She was pulled from the elite track programme in April 2016, shortly before she made the public allegations of discrimination by Sutton.

Sutton denied the allegations but an internal investigation upheld that he used “inappropriate and discriminatory language” towards Varnish.

The full investigation has not been published, but it later emerged that only one of nine complaints against Sutton was upheld.

He resigned from his post in 2016 and later took up a role with the Chinese national track squad.

At the employment tribunal, both BC and UK Sport claimed that national lottery funding awarded to Olympic athletes – which can be as much as £28,000 tax-free per annum – was similar to a university grant and therefore its athletes were not afforded the same employment right, a view that has been backed by the two judges.

British Cycling has responded to the appeal decision, saying that since Varnish raised concerns there have been “significant changes” to the culture in the high-performance programme.”

A spokesperson for BC said: “We believe that British Cycling’s relationship with riders who represent this country is not one of employer-employee but that of an organisation supporting dedicated athletes to fulfil their potential.

“We had tried to reach a resolution with Jess much sooner, so we regret she was advised to pursue the route of an employment tribunal when other avenues were open to her. Because of our responsibility to represent the best interests of every rider who hopes to compete at an Olympics or Paralympics, that decision meant we had no option but to oppose her case.”

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The spokesperson added: “Since Jess raised her concerns about the Great Britain Cycling Team in 2016, we have implemented significant changes to the culture and processes of our high-performance programme. Four years on, and while we are always seeking to improve, we are happy to say that the well-being of staff and riders in our high-performance programme continues to be our highest priority.”

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