Is Shane Sutton a sexist foul-mouthed bigot?
Well, he is Australian (badoom-tish).
If you don’t know Shane Sutton, he’s in charge of British Cycling’s Olympic track cyclists. He is the kind of guy people will often describe as “plain speaking”.
Of late, Sutton’s speech hasn’t actually seemed all that plain. Jessica Varnish, a track sprinter who has recently lost her contract, claims Sutton told her to “go and have a baby” and on another occasion told her that her arse was too big to switch positions in the team sprint.
The latest allegations are that he routinely referred to British para-cyclists as ‘gimps’ and ‘wobblies’.
You learn a little about Shane Sutton during a Sky documentary about Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 successes. At the time, despite his lofty occupation, he was living above Will’s Wheels in Stockport, ironing his shirts on the carpet. I think it was just a second home for work while his family lived in South Wales, but it still seems like it tells you something about the man.
The other thing you learn is that Sutton is a man who will never say “so weak he couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding” where he could instead say “so weak he couldn’t pull the foreskin off a rice pudding” – even though that doesn’t make any sense.
Point is, words don’t always carry a literal meaning and the spoken word can often look a good deal worse in print – particularly when a number of seemingly incriminating uses are collated and presented next to one another.
The real issue is not the words themselves, but the attitudes behind them. This is harder to perceive, but in this instance the picture doesn’t seem much rosier. A number of female athletes have claimed that British Cycling is institutionally sexist and have backed up their claims with some pretty persuasive observations.
Similarly, the more damning aspect of former para-cyclist Darren Kenny’s recent claims is perhaps not that Sutton referred to he and his colleagues as gimps, but the simple observation that his time at British Cycling was “one of the most unpleasant periods of my life.”
The picture is incomplete and Sutton himself has the right to respond, but what is currently being pieced together isn’t exactly the modern, forward-thinking environment that British Cycling tends to put forward to the world. If you ask me, they seem like a complete bunch of gimps.
Update: Sutton’s resigned.