Shane Sutton, British Cycling‘s technical director, has been suspended from his role pending an investigation after he was accused of making derogatory comments about British para-cyclists.
Sutton was already in the spotlight after sprinter Jess Varnish alleged that he had made sexist remarks to her, including that she should “go away and have a baby”.
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On Tuesday, British Cycling announced that it was launching a formal investigation, in conjunction with UK Sport, to examine Varnish’s claims.
The organisation was forced to go further, however, when hours later the Daily Mail published comments from Darren Kenny, a six-time gold paralympic gold medallist, who said that para-cyclists were “tolerated at best” and referred to in derogatory terms. Sutton denies all allegations of wrong-doing but has been suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation.
“I don’t think we were ever considered to be elite athletes,” said Kenny. “The term used to refer to us was generally ‘gimps’, with another word in front of that. I know others had an issue as well with not being allowed on the track and not being given time to prepare for competitions.”
Kenny, who was awarded an OBE for his services to disabled sport, called his time with British Cycling “one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life”.
Another source quoted by the Mail described an incident in which he says he heard Sutton describe para-cyclists as “f**king gimps”, and revealed that para-cyclists “were referred to as wobblies”.
Allegations of discriminatory behaviour arose after track sprinter Varnish was dropped from the Olympic squad. She has described a “culture of fear” in which athletes and staff feel unable to speak out about unacceptable behaviour.
British Cycling’s statement read: “Following the announcement of an independent review into British Cycling’s performance programmes, we are also announcing technical director Shane Sutton has been suspended pending an internal investigation into the allegations of discrimination that have been reported in the press.”
Sutton, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist for Australia in 1978, began working with British Cycling in 2002 and became a key member of Dave Brailsford’s hugely successful coaching set-up ahead of the Beijing Olympics. He stepped up to lead British Cycling’s coaching team after the departure of Brailsford in 2014.