Hong Kong - World cycling chief Brian Cookson said he didn't
recognise dark accounts of a "culture of fear" in the British team
but pointed out that sport is strewn with tough leaders who could be viewed as
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president was
speaking ahead of the completion of an independent review into British Cycling
after former rider Jess Varnish accused coaches of sexism and bullying.
Cookson headed British Cycling for 17 years before taking
charge of the world governing body in 2013, as it was grappling with the
fallout of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.
A leaked draft of the review reportedly described a
"culture of fear and bullying" in the British team, but Cookson said
that was "not a picture that I recognise".
"But of course nobody would want to see anybody bullied
or intimidated. So, let's see what the report says when it finally comes
out," he said.
Cookson added that elite sport was always unlikely to be a
"If it's comfortable, it's probably not going to be
successful," he said at the Track Cycling World Championships in Hong
"I think if you look at some of the greatest managers
of sport in history you could perhaps characterise some of their behaviour as
bullying, but they got the best out of their teams and fantastic results."
In just one example, Manchester United's long-time manager
Alex Ferguson was famous for his "hairdryer" confrontations and he
once kicked a boot at star midfielder David Beckham, leaving him with a cut
above his eye.
British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton resigned
after the allegations by Varnish, who said he told her to "get on with
having a baby" after she was cut from the team last year.
Varnish and her team-mate Katy Marchant had both lashed out
at the British set-up after they failed to qualify for last year's Olympics.
"In any sport with developing talented athletes you
might find 100, 200, 300 or however many it is at the local level,"
"At every stage you narrow that down, it might be until
you have three or four finally that make it all the way to the Olympic Games.
"In that process there's quite a lot rejection
Cookson has led a clean-up of cycling from the serial doping
cases of former years, notably the shock admission of cheating by America's
Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner.
Following the Armstrong fiasco, cycling handed its drug
testing over to the independent Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, cutting out any
involvement by the UCI.
Cookson's current plans include expanding the Olympic track
cycling programme to include the engrossing, endurance-cum-sprint madison
event, which was contested by women for the first time at a world championships
in Hong Kong.
International Olympic Committee monitors were on hand at the
Hong Kong Velodrome to witness the madison, which Cookson believes would lure
road-racing stars such as Britain's Mark Cavendish to compete at the Olympics.
"You're going to get a guy like Cavendish thinking:
'Ah, interesting'," he said.
"What governments like to see, for better or worse, is
Olympic medals," Cookson added.
"It's almost kind of a proxy international competition,
isn't it?... countries still want heroes and it's better than dropping bombs on
people and firing missiles at them at the end of the day."
Cycling is also attempting to expand beyond its traditional
heartlands with Asia, Africa and South America the prime targets. Hong Kong was
only the second Asian host of the track world championships, and the first
But Cookson said a prime concern was keeping drugs out of
cycling, whose reputation has all too often been dragged through the mire.
"If we can't guarantee a family that if they bring
their kid to our sport... they got to be able to compete without taking
substances that might damage their health, without having to lie, without
having to cheat and without having to spend the rest of their lives looking
over their shoulder," he said.
"If we can't do that as a sport then we've failed our sport."