Jess Varnish appeals against British Cycling and UK Sport tribunal decision

The former Olympian has been trying to prove she was an employee of the organisations

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

Jess Varnish has appealed against the employment tribunal decision over her connection with British Cycling and UK Sport.

Former track sprinter Varnish has been trying to prove she was an employee of the organisations, so she could then sue them for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

The 28-year-old took both bodies to an employment hearing, but earlier this year the tribunal decided that Varnish had not been an employee.

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British Cycling and UK Sport argued that the relationship between athlete and governing body was more like a university grant, with the tribunal agreeing with that assessment.

She is now challenging the ruling her lawyers have said, and a judge will decide whether the appeal can go ahead.

Varnish’s lawyer Simon Fenton said: “The appeal tribunal has been asked to overturn the original judgement and to decide that Ms Varnish was an employee.”


He added that the services and benefits Varnish received from British Cycling were not renumeration, and that the tribunal failed to establish how a cyclists relationship with British Cycling is different from a professional footballer’s employment status.

Varnish was pulled from British Cycling’s elite programme in April 2016, shortly before she publicly alleged sexual discrimination by former technical director Shane Sutton.

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

The full report 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.

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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 rights.

This view was backed by the employment tribunal judge in January.

UK Sport said it gave it “confidence that the structure of the relationship between other national governing bodies, their athletes and UK Sport can continue in a similar way, but we will reflect on the concerns that were raised through this case.”

British Cycling said it believed the decision was in the best interests of riders who represent Britain, and that the governing body was a service provider to athletes and not an employer.

Varnish said at the time: “I am disappointed at the judgement, but I have no regrets in going through this process.”

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.