17 January 2019A statement from Jess Varnish in response to the Employment Tribunal Judgement
I knew at the beginning of the tribunal, 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 Athletes brought to light the culture of fear and lack of investment in Athlete welfare that permeated through the British World Class Performance system. I’m happy I was the catalyst for other athletes to speak up and challenge their coaches and organisations, to push for a better and fairer environment in which to excel.
I’m glad that British Cycling, through their own internal, but never published, investigation, confirmed that I had been subjected to discrimination. I’m also glad that through this process they accepted they hadn’t paid sufficient care and attention to the wellbeing of athletes and that the handling of my case had been inept.
I’m also glad that UK Sport found in their independent investigation that a culture of fear did exist, along with a ‘power pocket’ structure, lack of oversight and people holding positions for which they were unsuitable. A vindication I feel for the true and fair account I gave of my time at British Cycling. When I first spoke out, these organisations said I was wrong and there wasn’t a problem. I’m happy that I and other Athletes could show them otherwise, and enable them to look inwardly at themselves and change their structure, their policies and their personnel. To change so significantly in the past three years can only be proof that a problem originally existed.
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 took two leading Barristers, a team of eight lawyers, a seven-day tribunal, close to £1million in legal fees and a proclamation that the ‘skies would fall in’ if the system was changed for British Cycling and UK Sport, to answer some simple questions posed by one Athlete about the set-up of the World Class Performance System. That it required all of this, and that even during the tribunal they struggled to answer simple questions, showed me I was right to push through my concerns and seek clarity, not just for myself, but for all Athletes on the World Class Programme, to ensure that the administrators at these Organisations are as World Class as the Athletes that represent them.
I’d like to thank the team that supported me, who have worked unpaid for the past three years to help me get to this point. The defence and tactics used against me at times were aggressive, my character was repeatedly called into question, my motives challenged. I was heavily briefed against and my sporting opportunities were lost. This wasn’t a defence that upheld the Olympic ideals rather one that embraced the win at all costs mentality for which they’d recently been criticized. The irony for me is, right at the beginning of this process, when I met with British Cycling, all I asked for was an apology and commitment to improve Athlete welfare. Neither were given. I therefore hope that Julie Harrington can reflect on how my situation was handled and ensure that no other Athlete endure the same inept process. Also, with the recent appointment of British Cycling’s first Integrity & Compliance Director, Rod Findlay, I hope he ensures that Athletes have an outlet and process which will allow them to hold British Cycling employees to account for inappropriate behaviour and misuse of personal data.
I hope that Liz Nichol, with the little time she has left in post, doesn’t lose the momentum of this case. Many concerns were raised during this process and I hope she ensures that Athlete welfare is at the forefront of the agenda for the new CEO and planning for the next Olympic cycle. I think it’s vital that UK Sport monitors Governing Bodies more closely moving forwards, ensuring that Athletes have a safe environment in which to thrive and a whistle blowing procedure that protects those brave enough to speak out, to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
I’m happy that new information came to light during the tribunal that will aid and inform Athletes moving forwards. UK Sport confirmed that the British Athletes Commission is engaged by UK Sport to negotiate the WCP Athlete Agreement on behalf of Athletes before it’s sent to Governing Bodies. This was unknown to every Athlete I’ve asked, so I will be reaching out to the Commission to see if I can be included in discussions next time around. Secondly, British Cycling confirmed that they are a service provider to Athletes, with appearances for sponsors and partners purely for educational and learning purposes. Again, this was a new way of explaining it to me, and certainly not how it had been explained during my time there, so I hope Athletes and future commercial partners take note of that.
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.
I will be meeting with my legal advisors in the coming weeks to consider grounds for an appeal. I take this process seriously and will not appeal for appeal’s sake.