The chair of the much delayed report into the culture of British Cycling has denied claims of a whitewash after delivering a version that was heavily diluted compared to an original leaked draft copy.
The report, ordered following claims of discrimination made by the sprint cyclist Jess Varnish and other Olympic and Paralympic riders, was finally released after 14 months of interviews and subsequent legal wrangling.
It states that many staff on the worldclass performance programme referred to a “culture of fear” but the damning criticism of both British Cycling and the funding body UK Sport in the draft report has disappeared or been softened significantly.
The original explosive report determined that the Commonwealth and world medallist Varnish had been dropped from the British Cycling squad as an “act of retribution”. It also criticised the “inept” handling of Varnish’s allegations that the former technical director Shane Sutton had told her to “get on with having a baby” and her bum was “too big” to ride certain roles on the team.
The draft report determined the findings of an internal review into Varnish’s departure had been covered up by the British Cycling board, headed by the chairman Jonathan Browning. But the new report does not arrive at the same verdict.
Varnish claimed she was dismissed after publicly speaking out against coaching decisions. But the new report stops short of this conclusion. “The panel did not view her removal as an act of discrimination,” it reads, “but, in the panel’s view at the very least, it did not follow contractual due process.”
There are subtle but significant changes in the wording of the new report, headed by the former British Rowing chairman Annamarie Phelps. Whereas the draft report concludes there “was and remains a culture of fear” at the programme, the new report states “many staff members said there was a culture of fear”.
“I don’t believe it’s a whitewash,” said Phelps. “I think it’s quite a strong report with very strong recommendations and very strong criticisms.
“I don’t think there’s a shift in tone. I think we’ve been as strong. We’ve changed some of the wording.”
The word bullying, which appeared in the draft report, has been removed completely from the final version – save for in reported speech – as has any direct criticism of Sir Dave Brailsford, the former British Cycling performance director. “The panel collectively looked at the wording very carefully before we decided on a final version,” said Phelps.
The UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl said: “We welcome the rigour and professionalism of the independent review panel’s work led so ably by Annamarie Phelps. While there are many sports and hundreds of people working across the high-performance system there are important lessons to be learnt for UK Sport and for every sport we work with.”