The head of world cycling acknowledges that "behavioural issues" existed within the British team during his leadership, but disputes claims of a culture of fear and bullying.
Brian Cookson’s campaign to win re-election for a second four-year term as UCI president has been rocked by the findings of an investigation into inappropriate behaviour that riders had to endure at British Cycling in recent years.
Although Cookson left British Cycling in 2013 to take charge of the sport globally, a secret internal report from 2012 about conduct within the Manchester setup put a fresh spotlight on his reign.
The government-funded UK Sport agency found that British Cycling failed to address "cultural and behavioural issues" identified after the 2012 Olympics when the country cemented its status as a cycling superpower.
"We were aware that there were some behavioural issues and we agreed an action plan to deal with those," Cookson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. "In my last months as president that action plan was begun to be implemented … and the idea we did not care about athlete welfare or swept something under the carpet I absolutely contest."
The 2012 report prepared for Cookson’s chief executive, Ian Drake, raised concerns about an "autocratic leadership style" within British Cycling and a "culture of fear and bullying" within identifying the protagonists.
"Of course no one wants to see anyone bullied or intimidated in anyway," Cookson said. "I didn’t see any firsthand evidence of that myself. I cannot apologize for something somebody may or may not have done."
Cookson said he had "no recollection" of seeing the full report, which was published by UK Sport earlier this month, at the time insisting he only got a summary.
"Some people referred to a ‘culture of fear’ but it doesn’t say there was a ‘culture of fear,"’ Cookson said. "That was not a picture I recognized … I had no reason to believe there was a culture of fear or bullying at all."
The report was delivered after the 2012 London Olympics when 12 cycling medals were won by the hosts.
"It was commissioned on the basis of finding out if any issues to be dealt with to ensure that British Cycling’s success levels could be maintained and extended into the future," Cookson said, "and how we could continue to benefit from the Olympic success."