The Employment Appeal Tribunal (Mr. Justice Choudhury, President, presiding) this morning handed down judgment in the appeal brought by Jess Varnish against the decision of an Employment Tribunal that she was not employed by British Cycling, the UK’s governing body for cycling. Jason Galbraith-Marten QC of Cloisters acted for British Cycling on the appeal.
The case potentially had huge implications for sport in the UK, and in particular elite sport, as a finding that Ms. Varnish was employed by British Cycling would have entitled her (and potentially other sportspeople) to various employment rights including a right to paid holiday and the National Minimum Wage. This could have very serious implications for the funding of sport in the UK.
However the EAT dismissed the appeal. It found that the Tribunal was entitled to conclude that the Athlete Agreement, which Miss Varnish entered into with British Cycling, was properly characterised as one under which British Cycling provided her with valuable benefits and services, including the provision of world-class coaching, rather than one under which she worked for British Cycling. It held that although Ms. Varnish undoubtedly trained hard in pursuit of the common purpose of winning medals for the British cycling team, that did not amount to ‘work for’ British Cycling pursuant to an employment contract. The EAT did not think a comparison with professional footballers, who usually are employed by the Clubs they play for, was apt.