British Cycling lines up third chair in a year as Browning steps down after nine months

Sean Ingle
Jonathan Browning has defended his short time as chairman of British Cycling. Photograph: Erik Schelzig/AP

British Cycling has lined up its third chair this year following Jonathan Browning’s decision to step down after only nine months in charge threatening more upheaval at the beleaguered organisation.

The 57-year-old, who replaced Bob Howden after he was pushed aside in February, had been forced to reapply for the chairperson’s job under new sports governance rules but, having gone through the interview process, decided to withdraw his application on Wednesday.

The Guardian understands that a new chair has already been selected but a date for their announcement has not been finalised. Browning, meanwhile, will leave his post on 1 December and return to the role of non-executive director, which he held from 2014 to this year.

In a statement Browning vigorously defended his short tenure, saying he had steered British Cycling out of the “depths of a crisis” following allegations of bullying, sexism and abuse of Para-athletes last year – as well as the continuing fallout from the mysterious Jiffy bag that was delivered by an employee to Bradley Wiggins in 2011.

However he conceded that the organisation would benefit “from a whole new leadership team” because of the numerous problems it had faced.

“When I stepped into the role of chair in February, British Cycling was in the depths of a crisis, facing severe reputational damage and there was an absence of strong, visible leadership,” he added. “It was clear to me that we needed to introduce major changes to our leadership, operations and governance which were in need of immediate reform and repair. Over the past nine months, we have done exactly that.”

Browning claimed that under his watch British Cycling had taken “a hard look at its behaviours”. He also pointed to the “energetic” appointments of the chief executive, Julie Harrington, and the performance director, Stephen Park – as well as arrival of a new commercial director, Jonathan Rigby, and a new head of medical services, Nigel Jones, as further evidence that the organisation was changing.

The support of many within the sport had encouraged Browning to apply for the job of independent chairman – previously the roles of British Cycling president and chairman had been combined – required by a new code for sports governance.

However, Browning’s chances of getting the job were never as high as he believed. Crucially, because he was a non-executive director of British Cycling from 2014, he was on the organisation’s board during a period when it was widely considered not fit for purpose.

As far back as March the Guardian was reporting that Browning did not have the full support of UK Sport. And his case was further damaged when British Cycling’s internal review into allegations of sexism by Jess Varnish was described as “inept” and “sanitised” in an independent review led by the British Olympic Association board member Annamarie Phelps.

While Browning pointed to several areas where the sins of the past had been addressed, he admitted that it was “frustrating” that an UK Anti-Doping Agency investigation into the Jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins at the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011 was still ongoing.

“There isn’t anything else I can say,” he added. “It is frustrating that there has been no closure. But the working relationship between British Cycling and the Ukad has strengthened over this period and in very good standing.”

Meanwhile Howden, who stepped aside as chairman in February, will seek re-election as British Cycling president at next week’s AGM. It is no longer a board position.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes