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The Jess Varnish decision - why British athletes are still not considered “employees” and what it means for athletes and NGBs

Friday, 05 April 2019 By Charles Fursdon, Robert Lewis, Chloe Westerman

On 16 January 2019, Jessica Varnish, the 28-year-old former Great Britain track cyclist and European team sprint champion, lost an employment claim against British Cycling and UK Sport (judgement available here1). In the case, the Manchester Employment Tribunal (the Tribunal) ruled that Varnish was neither an employee nor a worker of British Cycling or UK Sport. This decision effectively restates rather than changes the current law, but it nevertheless has ramifications for all elite athletes and sports national governing bodies (NGBs) in England and Wales.

This article provides an overview of the key legal aspects of the judgment before considering the implications of the decision and highlighting some issues it raises for NGBs when drafting elite athlete agreements.

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Written by

Charles Fursdon

Charles Fursdon

Charlie is an associate in the Commercial Litigation team at Farrer & Co. 

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Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis

Robert is a Managing Associate in the Employment department at Mischon de Reya and Head of the firm's Education Group. He advises clients on employment-related matters, safeguarding, complaints and discipline. He has extensive experience advising clients in the sports sector and has previously seconded to the Lawn Tennis Association.

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Chloe Westerman

Chloe Westerman

Trainee Solicitor, Farrer & Co

Chloe is a trainee solicitor at Farrer & Co who is currently sitting in the Employment team. Chloe worked in factual television before deciding to train as a lawyer.

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