Former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton has said that he was ‘pretty much loved by the staff’ at the organisation despite leaving under a cloud due to allegations of sexism and bullying.
Sutton returned to the home of British Cycling, the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, at the weekend for the UCI Track World Cup in his new role as track coach for the Chinese team.
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The 60-year-old Australian said that he received a warm welcome, and told the BBC of his return to Manchester: “That’s been a bit tough to take because it brings all the memories back.”
“People criticise me from a distance but when you get down here into the nitty gritty of the day to day I was pretty much loved by the staff, I’ve treated them well and that’s shown in the reception I’ve had.”
Sutton resigned from his post at British Cycling in April 2016 – after 14 years working with the organisation – in the wake of allegations that he made sexist comments to former Olympic track sprinter Jess Varnish. Sutton denies the allegations.
An independent report was commissioned to look into the allegations and the culture within the Great Britain cycling team, which concluded among its findings that there was a ‘culture of fear’ in the team.
However, Sutton said that he thinks the report was not entirely correct in its findings.
“That’s just people probably trying to build their own empire,” Sutton said. “Until you’re in the pit and know what’s going on I don’t really think you can make decisions that they’ve made.
“The review process is not what many perceive here. And the reception I’ve had here shows that.”
An internal investigation found that Sutton was guilty of only one in nine charges levelled against him relating to discriminatory behaviour – that he used the word ‘bitches’. Sutton said that the use of the word was taken out of context.
“People don’t know the circumstances where I used that comment,” Sutton explained.
“It was used as a general comment; a couple of people playing up on the day. That’s not actually going up to an athlete and saying you are a ‘whatever’. That wasn’t the case. I think people need to know that.”
During the BBC interview, Sutton also defended former colleague Dave Brailsford, who was performance director at British Cycling and worked closely with Sutton. Sutton said that criticism of Brailsford was “totally unjustified” and that he was one of the “great leaders of world sport”.
Sutton is working with the Chinese track team as they prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and is aiming to replicate the track cycling success achieved by GB in the past three Olympic Games.