Dame Katherine Grainger braced for further British sport revelations

Dame Katherine Grainger took up the position of UK Sport chair in July. Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

MANCHESTER -- After a painfully turbulent time for British sport, Dame Katherine Grainger, chair of UK Sport, is braced for further damaging revelations.

Cycling, gymnastics, swimming, canoeing and bobsleigh in the UK have all had to deal with serious allegations from their athletes about the conduct of coaches and staff over the last few months.

Outside British Olympic and Paralympic disciplines, football's governance and leadership has also come under the spotlight, and the claims across sport have been wide-ranging: from bullying and abuse to racism.

But Grainger, who chairs the body which provides close to £400 million in Olympic and Paralympic funding suspects we may not be done yet.

"It wouldn't surprise me if there is more to come," the five-time Olympian told ESPN. "If there are still people who have had bad experiences, now is the time to speak.

"It's genuinely heartbreaking as an ex-athlete to hear about the experiences some have had. But I would far rather have them out there being looked into, talked about, shared and lessons learnt. All the things that will ultimately make the system better."

Grainger, who won four Olympic silver medals and one gold, took up her post in July having retired from rowing after the Rio Games.

She couldn't have moved into sports administration at a more challenging time, as the philosophy which brought Britain 65 medals in London in 2012 and 67 in Brazil last year has been repeatedly questioned, with growing fears that a win-at-all-costs approach has inflicted damage behind the success.

The sporting crises in the last couple of years have been such, in fact, that UK Sport has been carrying out a cultural review and a code of governance has been introduced by it and Sport England.

There have been calls for the government to create a sports ombudsman to ensure better oversight of both the sports and their funding bodies, too.

It all paints a sorry picture of the way sport is run in this country, and indicates the problems of a fragmented landscape in which greater achievement brings better funding.

The number of governing bodies and umbrella organisations -- and therefore competing interests and priorities -- has created a sporting beast that is clearly difficult to control.

The catalyst for change, however, has come from the bottom up, from athletes and players who either reached breaking point or were simply brave enough to speak out when they saw or experienced wrongdoing.

Cyclist Jess Varnish was among them, and she has a legal case pending against UK Sport and British Cycling which could change the employment status of elite athletes and the nature of British sports funding as a result.

Eni Aluko in women's football was another, but it wouldn't have been easy for anyone to speak out with confidence. Greg Clarke, the FA chairman, said last month that no sport has "decent" whistleblowing procedures, and his influential governing body is now getting help from UK Sport to draw up some for the country's most popular game.

The impact of all of this has been a fundamental shift in the way sports are supposed to achieve success, and some -- including Team Sky's former British Cycling performance director Sir Dave Brailsford -- have questioned whether that means the approach to elite sport has "gone soft".

"I share some concern with Dave," said Julie Harrington, British Cycling's chief executive. "What you can't have is coaches fearful of how they speak to athletes.

"Many athletes will tell you that they need to be pushed to achieve their best. People will draw their line in different places.

"This is not just cycling and elite sport. We've seen it in Parliament, in the entertainment industry. What some people would call banter, others would call bullying.

"What I really want is to work on a culture where you can have an open discussion in the athlete-coach relationship about what they're comfortable with and what they are not. However, there will always be some hard and fast rules, such as on discriminatory language."

With Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of UK Sport, telling ESPN that Britain has greater medal potential for the next winter and summer Olympics than last time around, the tricky question for sport support staff is: how much pressure is acceptable when trying to get the best out of an athlete?

"There will always be an element of sport that's tough," said Grainger, who was at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester for a conference on world-class performance. "But it can't just be ruthless. There needs to be compassion, thought behind decisions, and a lot of sports get that spot on.

"The challenges are immense and are being felt in all parts of sport, whether they are directly affected or not," she added. "We are still talking about more success, though, it's just a wider concept than it was before.

"It's still about winning medals and that's not going to shift, but success now means it's got to be done in a really healthy environment: where people feel valued, supported and challenged."