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Athletes and coaches highlight concerns in letter to bobsleigh governing body

UK Sport has commissioned an investigation into the BBSA.

Thirteen athletes and two coaches on the British bobsleigh programme have endorsed a letter to their governing body’s chair expressing concern over a number of recent decisions it has taken, the PA news agency has learned.

The letter to British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association (BBSA) chair Joanna Poulton criticises the removal of bobsleigh development director Colin Rattigan from the board on October 1, the failure to hire Tom De La Hunty as performance director and the appointment of board members Ian Richardson and Heather Ratnage-Black as performance directors.

The athletes also insist the UK Sport investigation into the BBSA – which began in June following complaints raised by Rattigan – must be “open and transparent”.

It is understood the athletes have expressed their support for the letter but their names have not been included at the bottom of it to protect their anonymity.

Meanwhile, Rattigan has released his own statement saying he will pursue legal action over his removal.

The athletes’ letter, which was sent on Saturday and has been seen by the PA news agency, stated: “The strategy and structure created and put into place by Colin Rattigan during his short tenure as the bobsleigh development director is the best development plan we have seen for many years.

“We were sure that this plan would bring us collective success, funding and medals. His impact was exceptional.”

They said his removal “came without warning or any explanation”.

The athletes say they felt “misled” by Poulton over the failure to bring De La Hunty on board as performance director, despite the fact he had already started working with them informally and funding had been secured to cover his salary.

UK Sport, whose chief executive Sally Munday is pictured, has commissioned an independent investigation into the BBSA
UK Sport, whose chief executive Sally Munday is pictured, has commissioned an independent investigation into the BBSA (Steve Parsons/PA)

They say board members Richardson and Ratnage-Black have been appointed as replacement performance directors.

“This is extremely concerning,” the letter states.

“Neither of these two individuals have any knowledge, experience or expertise to fulfil these roles. Thus far they have not communicated with us at all or explained to us their development plan and structure for the next 18 months as we prepare for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. This will jeopardise our preparation for this season and for the Games.”

The letter calls for the appointment of an “appropriately qualified” performance director or the removal of the interim appointments so that the athletes can manage their season independently.

The BBSA is understood to dispute the letter’s assertion that Richardson and Ratnage-Black are working as performance directors, and are simply the directors responsible for bobsleigh.

The assertion that the athletes are not able to manage their seasons independently is also understood to have been challenged by the governing body. The PA news agency understands it was also made clear to athletes that pilots would be the conduit for communications from the board representatives.

Elite funding body UK Sport commissioned an independent investigation into the BBSA in June, which followed a probe in 2017 into allegations of a “toxic culture” at the governing body.

The letter added: “Given the negative experience of some of the athletes before and during the 2017 investigations, and the dissatisfaction at the eventual outcome, we feel UK Sport must ensure that the current investigation is open and transparent.”

It concludes: “The actions of the BBSA board have distracted us from the work at a critical time in the rehabilitation of British bobsleigh, as we seek to work together to restore its reputation and funding in our sport. None of the aforementioned actions have assisted our progression toward this goal and Olympic success.”

A photo of the Olympic rings at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang
A photo of the Olympic rings at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang (David Davies/PA)

The letter calls for a BBSA response by Tuesday, or the matter would be raised with UK Sport.

After the 2017 probe, the BBSA was put on notice by UK Sport that the £7.2million investment in its successful skeleton programme was contingent on a major shake-up of the BBSA board.

Rattigan was appointed last year as part of those reforms, but was removed on October 1. The BBSA said he had “fundamentally breached the directors’ code of conduct”.

He released a statement on Monday criticising the board for its “acceptance of failure for political ends”, adding: “I have acted without fear or favour in my actions, taking a high performance, duty of care, sport governance and ethical route in carrying out my duties as a member of the BBSA.”

On the UK Sport investigation, he said: “I looked forward to a fair and honest investigation, however, I require clarity around the process and witness statements which to date has not been forthcoming.”

The BBSA said: “We welcome the independent investigation commissioned by UK Sport and are happy to co-operate fully.”

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Thursday's key events

· Comeback queen and super-mum Helen Glover goes for her third Olympic gold alongside Polly Swann in the women's pair final (1.30am)
· There is also a medal on offer for GB pair Emily Craig and Imogen Grant in the lightweight women's double scull final (2.10am)

· As second-fastest qualifier for the final, Team GB's James Wilby is among the medal contenders in the men's 200m breaststroke (2.44am)
· Alys Thomas takes part in the women's 200m butterfly final, although he faces a difficult task to challenge for the medals (3.28am)
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· After Team GB's men narrowly missed out on a medal, the women get their campaign underway against the Russian Olympic Committee (3am) and New Zealand (10.30am)

· It is a Great Britain vs. Netherlands double-header, with the men up first in Pool B (4.15am)
· Most eyes will be on the women's showdown between the two nations, though, as Netherlands - the world's best team - look to gain revenge on GB for defeat in the 2016 Olympic final (11am)

· Mallory Franklin takes part in the women's canoe semi-final, and will hope to do enough to qualify for the final later in the day (6am-8.45am)

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