Jess Varnish: ‘I’m disappointed with the judgement but I have no regrets’

The former track sprinter has released a statement after she lost her employment tribunal against British Cycling

Jess Varnish, Commonwealth Games 2014 Glasgow, track cycling day four

Former track sprinter Jess Varnish said she is “disappointed” to lose her case against British Cycling and UK Sport, but that she already felt she had won by instigating change.

The 28-year-old launched proceedings against British Cycling and UK Sport in an attempt to prove she was an employee of the two bodies.

Varnish had been subjected to discriminatory language by former technical director Shane Sutton.

She then needed to prove she was employed by British Cycling and UK sport, rather than being self employed, in order to sue the organisations for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

But the employment tribunal, held in Manchester, concluded on Wednesday (January 16) with Varnish losing the case.

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In a statement, released on Thursday afternoon (January 17) she said: “I knew at the beginning of the trial, no matter the outcome, that I had already won.

“Since I first spoke out in April 2016 about my experience at British Cycling, significant change has taken place.

“I firmly believe this change happened because the athletes brought to light the culture of fear and lack of investment in athlete welfare that permeated through the British Cycling World Class Performance system.”

Varnish was pulled from British Cycling’s elite programme in April 2016, shortly before she publicly alleged sexual discrimination by 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 Judge Ross on Wednesday evening. 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 added: “I am disappointed at the judgement, but I have no regrets in going through this process.

“Despite meetings, mediation and attempts at settlement, it was clear that the only way to engage and ensure change occurred within these organisations was a legal challenge. There is no other option open to Athletes.

“It has been a long three years, and it has cost me a lot, but as I said earlier, I have no regrets.

“I hold my head high knowing that I left no stone unturned and always told the truth. In that time, I’ve almost completed my degree in sports & exercise nutrition, set up my own personal training business and am now starting a family. I am excited about the future.”

Varnish said she would be meeting with her legal representatives and would consider appealing the tribunal decision.

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Alex Ballinger
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 CyclingWeekly.com. 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.