British Cycling chief says Paul Manning's departure is sudden, but denies controversy is behind decision

Tom Cary
·5 min read
Paul Manning — - GETTY IMAGES
Paul Manning — - GETTY IMAGES

Stephen Park, the performance director of British Cycling, has denied that any specific fallout or controversy was behind Paul Manning’s shock decision to quit his role as women’s endurance coach 10 months out from the Olympic Games. Park did concede, however, that weariness at new governance put in place over the last four years may have been a factor.

Manning, who coached Britain’s women to successive gold medals in London and Rio and also guided Laura Kenny to her individual golds, only informed the squad on Tuesday of his intention to quit. 

He said in a statement that he would be “forever proud” of the performances to which he had contributed and added that his remaining time with the team would be focused on “a successful launch into 2021”. But he gave no reason beyond that for his decision.

Coming hot on the heels of the dismissal of men’s sprint coach Kevin Stewart for “inappropriate relationships” with riders, it inevitably led to speculation that all may not be well within the Great Britain Cycling Team (GBCT), which is now having to fill two key vacancies just months out from an Olympic Games.

Park conceded the timing was less than ideal but insisted the two cases were completely unrelated. 

“Would I prefer he had done it in 10 months’ time? Yeah, I would. But equally I respect his decision,” he told Telegraph Sport on Wednesday. “For clarity, Paul has not been ‘exited’. He has decided for whatever reason that it’s time to move on.”

Asked whether he and Manning had fallen out in any way, Park replied: “Not particularly no. No more or less than the other coaches. Ultimately, when you’re the boss of any organisation, your job is not to be liked. Have I had any blazing rows with Paul Manning recently? No. Frankly, even if he wanted to, that’s not really his character. Maybe he will come out later on that there was some issue but there’s nothing obvious that falls into that bracket.”

Park did admit that weariness at the way he was running GBCT — and the way UK Sport was requiring it to be run - was probably a factor. 

“I’m sure there are things which are going on, in terms of the way I’m running the programme, in terms of the way UK Sport are requiring governing bodies to run their programmes, I’m sure there are things on that list which everybody involved in the world-class programme are not necessarily happy with, or agree with,” he said. “And I’m sure some of those things, if you were able to dissect Paul Manning’s brain and look at that list, I’m sure some of those things would be relevant.”

British Cycling commissioned an independent review of its cultures and practices in April 2016 following a number of allegations of sexism and bullying. The report made 39 recommendations.

“We’ve worked pretty blooming hard as a governing body to address the 39 points which were raised in the Cycling Independent Review,” Park said. “We’ve worked very hard to educate our workforce. And we’ve added additional bits and pieces.”

“I think through this four-year cycle, as a result of both societal changes and all the inquiries which have gone on, there’s far more governance in terms of what happens in a world-class high-performance programme — accountability, goal-setting, evidencing decision-making, behaviour, training… things that are non-technical. Mandatory training around everything from expenses to equality policy to diversity… there’s module after module after module. 

“Whether you’re a performance director or a communications officer or a coach, when you start looking at that list, the first thing you’re thinking is: ‘How is this going to make us win more medals?’ All of that time you’re spending on that is time you’re not spending directly with athletes. But the other side is we’re trying to make sure we provide all that training so that we educate our workforce, so we can ensure they do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”

Both coaching roles were being advertised on the British Cycling website on Wednesday, with Park saying he wanted to “cast the net wide”.

“We just topped the medals table at [last week’s] European Track Champs,” he said. “And we do have people internally who we feel have the capability to step up. But equally we’re keen to cast the net wide. We need to take the opportunity now to see how we can move on and use this as an opportunity. We’re medal-competitive in both those disciplines. So what new input can come in and take us on and improve our performance still further?

“There will be people in other countries’ programmes for instance who have already committed to those countries because it’s Tokyo but if they don’t take this opportunity with BC [British Cycling] it may not come up again. So if they want it they may have to come and get it. If coaches want to come and work with the best cyclists in the world now’s the time for them to apply.”

Meanwhile, Alex Dowsett has postponed his attempt at the hour record next month after the British rider tested positive for Covid-19, cycling's governing body the UCI said on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old, who held the record in 2015, was hoping to take the record back from Belgian Victor Campenaerts who rode 55.08km last year in Mexico. No new date has been set for Dowsett's attempt.

"I am really disappointed the attempt can't go ahead as planned but my health is first and foremost the priority," Dowsett said in a statement.

"I very much look forward to attacking the record in 2021 with the same intent."