Olympic champions Nicole Cooke and Victoria Pendleton have come out in support of Jess Varnish’s claims of sexism within British Cycling, which the 25-year-old made after being dropped from the Olympic programme.
Cooke, who won both the Olympic and World Championships road race in 2008, says that in her experience women are treated like “second-class citizens” from track cycling all the way up to the Tour de France.
Writing in the Guardian, Cooke said: “Hypocrisy and double standards in respect to gender are ingrained in cycling and many other sports but this is hidden in reports of events.”
Adding: “In 2008 when I won Olympic gold in Beijing, the day before, in the men’s road race, every single one of the four men riding for Team GB failed to finish.
“In 2006, Welsh Cycling sent me to defend my Commonwealth Games road race title as a team of one while fielding a full team of six male road riders. None of the six finished.”
She also cited the differences in the track events that men and women compete in, with the women’s team sprint over 500m, while the men complete 750m. The men’s time trial sprint is over 1000m, while the women race over half that distance.
Varnish, who won bronze medals in the time trial at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, was critical of the BC management after the women’s team failed to qualify for the team sprint at the Rio Olympics.
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After her contract was not renewed last week she alleged in an interview with the Daily Mail that Sutton said “with an ass like mine I couldn’t change position within the team sprint” and that she was “too old” to compete for a medal in Rio.
“I have my own personal experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess,” Cooke said. “She was in the position so many have found themselves: speak out and your dreams will be destroyed and years of hard work wasted. Or put up with it and hope. I spoke out from the age of 19 and I know what happens.”
Pendleton also spoke of her experiences in the BC programme, during which she won two Olympic gold medals, and agreed with Varnish’s claims that sexism and bullying exist at the highest levels.
“I never really felt I had the same respect as my male team-mates,” she told the Telegraph. “My opinion wasn’t worth as much. I used to sit quietly in meetings and not say anything as I knew my opinions would be disregarded. And that’s after I had become Olympic champion and multiple world champion.
“You have to wonder why there isn’t a single woman in a position of leadership in the organisation,” she added. “If there’s a 50-50 split in terms of athletes, why isn’t there in terms of staff? Although that’s something that needs to be addressed in sport as a whole.”
Responding specifically to Cooke’s article, British Cycling said: “Riders in the Great Britain Cycling Team heading to Rio 2016 will receive all the support they need to be as good as they can be. A gold medal is valued by us, no matter who wins it and we are equally proud of all our Olympic and world champions.”
In relation to Varnish’s claims of sexism they said: “Following a review of every rider, the decision was made not to renew Jess’s place based on performances in training and competition, and on a projection of capability for a medal in Tokyo.
“The decision was upheld by an evaluation committee following an appeal by Jess. At no point in the performance review, the appeal process or in subsequent correspondence did Jess raise concerns about sexism, or any other form of discriminatory behaviour, in the GB team.
“However, we are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity. As such, we treat any such allegations with the utmost seriousness and we will be contacting Jess to offer to discuss her concerns in full.”
Sutton also denies that he “said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism” in his dealings with Varnish.