Abuse scandal rocks British gymnastics

Abuse scandal rocks British gymnastics

British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell has issued a “genuine apology” for the abuse scandal that has rocked the sport, and admitted the governing body now faces a long and difficult task to restore trust.

Safeguarding failures from junior to elite level have been catalogued in the Whyte Review, published on Thursday, which was jointly commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England.

The 306-page report accused British Gymnastics of presiding over an era in which money and medals mattered more than athlete safety, and said it had singularly failed to listen to athletes’ complaints.

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Powell, whose predecessor Jane Allen was strongly criticised in the report, said: “It’s emotional for me, I’m a mum and sport is not supposed to do this.

“I had to speak to gymnasts this morning, and it was hard, because you could see how it affected them.

“I looked them in the eye and said sorry.

“And I am sorry – to them for what they have experienced, and their parents and those around them who have also been affected.”

Powell said the governing body accepted all the recommendations in the report and “will not shy away” from taking the steps required to restore confidence in both British Gymnastics and the sport as a whole.

“This is a genuine apology, from the sport, from myself, from the leadership,” added Powell.

The extent to which young gymnasts were subjected to shocking levels of physical and mental abuse was outlined in the review by Anne Whyte QC.

“I have concluded that gymnasts’ well-being and welfare has not been at the centre of [British Gymnastics’] culture for much of the period of the Review and has not, until very recently, featured as prominently as it ought to have done within the World Class Programme,” wrote Whyte.

She drew her conclusions from over 400 submissions following her call for evidence, over half of which reported some form of emotional abuse, nine per cent involved sexual abuse, and over two thirds of which were primarily critical in tone.

The review revealed horrific personal testimonies, including one of a seven-year-old being sat on by a coach and another who said they feared their legs would “snap” during a process in which they were being pushed down to perform the splits.

Gymnasts reported instances of being made to wear a dunce’s cap and being called a “cry-baby” in front of their peers.

One parent described how a complaint about their child being called a “faggot” on a daily basis was “shrugged off as a joke” by the club’s welfare officer.

Whyte went on to describe a catalogue of failures by the governing body, including its inability to efficiently deal with complaints, its disregard for athletes’ opinions and its reluctance to intervene over well-known weight-management issues, which she described as the “tyranny of the scales”.

She accused Allen of a “lack of leadership” and an “organisational failure… to appreciate the central importance of athlete welfare”.

The review also criticised UK Sport for presiding over a culture in which it’s own ‘Mission Process’ was “window dressing for those sports, like gymnastics, where medals were realistically anticipated and that the medals mattered more… than athlete welfare”.

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