(Reuters) - Double Olympic champion Joanna Rowsell Shand, who retired from international cycling earlier this month, has defended embattled British Cycling, saying that she never experienced sexism during her stellar 10-year career.
Funding body UK Sport is investigating British Cycling after technical director Shane Sutton quit last year over allegations of sexual discrimination against track cyclist Jess Varnish and an ingrained “culture of fear”.
Rowsell Shand, who also won five World Championships and four European titles, said that although British Cycling was “not perfect”, she had never personally faced discrimination in the decade she spent working with the governing body.
”It’s not my experience,“ Rowsell said in an interview with the Times published on Thursday. ”I’ve come through the whole system and won two Olympic gold medals and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d experienced sexism.
”I didn’t fear British Cycling. I accepted the commitment that was needed... and dedicated a decade of my life to it. I came out with some good results and I‘m glad I did it.
“British Cycling is not perfect and people’s complaints need to be addressed, but they have done a lot of good.”
Varnish’s allegations were supported by former British Olympic champions Nicole Cook and Victoria Pendleton, while Wendy Houvenaghel, a silver medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, has also spoken out against the body.
Rowsell Shand, however, disagreed, saying the culture at British Cycling pushed her to become a better athlete.
”Elite sport is really tough,“ the 28-year-old said. ”It’s not all fun and games... It’s intense but everyone is doing it because they want to win. They’re not there to ride their bikes out in the sun.
“When you have that mentality, it makes you work hard. But elite sport is not for everybody.”
Varnish went public after being dropped from the performance squad when she failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Games and Rowsell Shand added that she understood what fuelled her former team mate’s anger.
“The criticism doesn’t surprise me because I understand that the disappointment must be huge,” Rowsell Shand said. “I understand how hard it would be to take if you had to leave the programme or didn’t get the results you wanted.”
Rowsell Shand, however, said she regretted not offering her opinion when contacted by UK Sport’s independent investigating team.
“In terms of the review, I was sent an email in June last year, less than two months out from the Olympics... I was very focused on Rio and didn’t realise how important the review would become,” she added.
“In hindsight, I should have offered an opinion, which would have provided some balance. I had the impression from the email that they only wanted to hear from people if they had something to report.”
Writing by Simon Jennings in Benglauru; Editing by John O'Brien