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To strive is human, to abuse malign: discrimination and non-accidental violence of professional athletes without employee-style statutory protection
  1. Victoria Louise Roberts,
  2. Victor Eduardo Sojo
  1. Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Victoria Louise Roberts, Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia; victoria.roberts{at}

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A recent judgement from a landmark employment case against British Cycling and UK Sport found that Jess Varnish, a former professional British cyclist, was neither an employee nor a worker of either organisation within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 or the Equality Act 2010. The relationship between the cyclist and British Cycling was judged to be more akin to a relationship between a student and a University (eg, service provider), and that funding provided to the cyclist by UK Sport was analogous to a grant.1

Jess Varnish brought her claims of unfair dismissal (ie, termination of her Athlete Performance Award, which is a means-tested financial contribution towards an athlete’s living expenses), direct sex discrimination, victimisation and unlawful detriment for having made protected disclosures (ie, whistle-blowing) to the Employment Tribunal.1 She sought protections offered to employees or workers but not offered to professional athletes.

The case highlights a problem: athletes are not considered to be employees nor workers and therefore are not entitled to employee nor worker protection, but no other equivalent form of protection for athletes exists.

Why …

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it published Online First. The first author's name has been corrected.

  • Contributors VLR developed the idea and wrote the paper. VES cowrote the article.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Author note The authors emphasise that they make no claims about the conduct of British Cycling or UK Sport. This article is merely intended to highlight a lack of employment-style protection for athletes.