• Jessica Varnish is at the center of a sexism storm in British Cycling (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
UCI vice-president Tracey Gaudry is rapt with the support given to British cyclist Jess Varnish by her peers.
By
Cycling Central

Source:
AAP
5 May 2016 - 8:40 AM  UPDATED 5 May 2016 - 8:47 AM

Tracey Gaudry has praised the support given to British sprinter Jess Varnish, saying it shows the sport combating another omerta of silence.

Gaudry, the UCI's first female vice-president, compares the sexism in cycling to the cone of silence that has protected doping.

But the Australian says cycling's attitude to women is changing slowly, and for the better.

She is particularly encouraged that when Varnish made her allegations last month, several of her peers also spoke up.

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British Cycling is in crisis ahead of the Rio Olympics, with its Australian technical director Shane Sutton resigning last week and investigations under way.

The controversy started when Varnish lost her place on the British Olympic track squad.

The track sprinter alleged in the media last month that Sutton then told her she was too old and it was time to have a baby; which he denies vehemently.

But soon after Varnish's initial allegation, several of British cycling's biggest names joined the debate.

Olympic gold medallists Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke and current stars Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley either backed Varnish directly or commented about how the sport was treating women.

Gaudry, herself an Olympic cyclist, stressed she was not passing judgment on Varnish or Sutton.

She is not involved in the issue and Gaudry would not comment directly about British Cycling.

But she was pleased to see so many stars ready to join the discussion.

"It's a really positive development," she told AAP.

"Let's think about doping. There was an omerta and what did it take for people to stand up and say 'that's not right, we're not going to put up with that'.

"This is actually not dissimilar and what we now have, I think, is a strength of character and a sense that there is a growing level of equity.

"There's less apprehension around being branded by speaking up. I think it's a really good step."

Gaudry also said Varnish's allegations had to be seen in a much broader perspective.

"Sexism is not just a cycling issue, nor is it just a sport issue. It's a whole of society issue," she said.

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British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton resigned on Wednesday after being engulfed in a row about sexist and discriminatory remarks he is alleged to have made.

Asked if progress was being made in cycling, Gaudry replied "absolutely".

"But 'better' is in varying degrees and 'better' is not linear or uniform.

"The level of respect that this issue is being given demonstrates the sense of omerta around this in the past is no longer accepted.

"It's a demonstration that it's time for the sport to move forward.

"It's time for the consciousness to recognise that we still have issues to overcome."

Gaudrey added a lot more women were needed in positions of authority. Not just in cycling, but throughout sport.

"We need more women in the system. There are not enough," she said.