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‘Too little attention’ to athlete welfare, says UK Sport as cycling prepares for report

Liz Nicholl says there “probably hasn’t been enough attention” paid to athlete welfare

There is “no excuse” for failures to look after athlete welfare, UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl has warned.

Her comments come as British Cycling prepares for the publication of a report into alleged bullying, favouritism and sexism.

Nicholl told the BBC that she would be “clear about the actions that UK Sport and British Cycling need to take”.

And she admitted that “there probably hasn’t been enough attention in sport about how they do things”.

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‘The system is pretty male-dominated’

The investigation into the culture at British Cycling was conducted by a panel headed by the chair of British Rowing, Annamarie Phelps.

The inquiry, announced last April, was ordered following allegations of sexism and bullying made by rider Jess Varnish against former technical director Shane Sutton.

Varnish claimed the coach had used sexist and discriminatory language when dropping her from the Olympic programme, something he strongly denies.

In October, Sutton resigned and was found guilty of one charge of using inappropriate language by an internal review.

A number of other riders and former staff members have backed Varnish’s portrayal of “a culture of fear” within British Cycling, including former road world champion Nicole Cooke, who told a parliamentary select committee that it was a sport “run by men, for men”.

Former performance director Sir Dave Brailsford has insisted he ran a regime that was “not sexist but definitely medallist”.

“All those views are being taken into account through the review,” said Nicholl.

“It’s fair to say that the high-performance system here is pretty male-dominated. There aren’t very many female coaches and there’s an opportunity to address that in future, and to get a better balance to support athletes in a way that athletes of today want to be supported.

“Athletes have moved on and maybe the programmes haven’t moved on as fast as they should have done, but what we see is an opportunity.”

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‘There has not been enough attention paid’

The legally sensitive nature of Phelps’ report has meant it has been delayed, with fears it could be heavily redacted to protect witness confidentiality.

Those who gave evidence are now being asked how much of their testimony can be revealed, while those criticised have an opportunity to respond.

Publication could take another month, but on 1 March British Cycling will brief staff and riders on an ‘action plan’ – effectively its response to the report and concerns over the way it operates.

This will include greater oversight of its high-performance programme, and more consideration of athlete welfare.

“There’s no excuse for not addressing duty of care responsibilities to athletes,” said Phelps. “There’s no excuse for not putting athletes first.

“They are are the ones who’ll deliver the medals and every programme should be trying to ensure they have happy and successful athletes and there probably hasn’t been enough attention in sport about how they do things.

“There’s a lot of focus on operational delivery, probably not enough on leadership management and communication.”

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Missed warnings?

The Phelps report could raise other difficult questions for UK Sport, including whether it could have taken more interest in an internal review that British Cycling conducted after the 2012 London Games.

Former British Cycling chief executive Peter King took anonymous statements from 40 personnel as part of a report that was never made public.

“We didn’t receive the King report,” said Nicholl.

“We were given to believe that actually we had a very light-touch version of it fed to us, so we had no indication of the significance. It’s only now come to light.”

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