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Ex-Team GB cyclist loses landmark legal battle

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Former Great Britain sprint cyclist Jess Varnish has lost her employment tribunal against British Cycling and UK Sport.

Her management team said in a statement: “It has been found that Jess Varnish was neither an employee or a worker of either British Cycling or UK Sport.”

The 28-year-old, who won world and commonwealth medals, argued that funded athletes, such as her, should be classed as “employees” or “workers” rather than “self-employed”.

Varnish competing in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in London in 2016
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Varnish competing in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in London in 2016

Both “employees” and “workers” come with protections against discrimination, the right to the national minimum wage, paid holiday, whistleblowing protection and other rights like maternity pay and a pension. However, the self-employed do not have such protections.

Varnish, who cycled alongside Victoria Pendleton at London 2012, was dropped from the British Cycling programme before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Varnish (front) Victoria Pendleton compete during the 2012 Olympics
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Varnish (front) and Victoria Pendleton compete during the 2012 Olympics

She alleged bullying and discrimination – specifically that then technical director Shane Sutton said her bottom was “too big” to ride in certain roles on the team and that she should go off and “have a baby”.

Sutton resigned in the wake of her accusations and the affair sparked a duty of care crisis which has spread to several Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Had she won the tribunal, she planned to sue British Cycling for discrimination.

Shane Sutton (pictured) has been accused of bullying and discrimination
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Shane Sutton resigned after being accused of bullying and discrimination

UK Sport said in a statement: “Whilst this verdict did not find Jessica Varnish to be an employee or worker of UK Sport or British Cycling, we have already taken action to strengthen the duty of care and welfare provided to athletes and are ensuring that avenues for raising any concerns are effective and appropriate.

“We hope Jess feels proud of the success she achieved through cycling and we wish her all the very best for the future.”

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