UK sport rocked by ‘abuse and starvation’ claims
British Gymnastics has been accused of putting its medal ambitions over the health and welfare of its athletes, many of whom were physically and emotionally abused, according to an independent report published this week.
Allegations contained within the 306-page report which was commissioned in 2020 following allegations made by a host of gymnasts include claims of systemic abuse.
The report, which was overseen by lawyer Anne Whyte, detailed more than 400 claims ranging from junior to elite-level gymnasts - with more than half alleging some form of emotional abuse and just under 10% claiming that they experienced sexual abuse.
Whyte also accused British Gymnastics of fostering a culture in which competitive success was paramount, and often came at the expense of the wellbeing of the athletes helping to deliver it.
Among the complaints logged in the report include that of a seven-year-old boy who claims he was 'sat on' by a gymnastics coach, and another incident in which a young gymnast feared that they would experience a severe injury when being compelled to perform the splits despite telling the coach that their leg felt like it would 'snap'.
Others said that they were openly mocked in front of their peers after failing in a gymnastic routine, with one saying they were called a 'cry baby' during a team meeting.
It was also alleged that young gymnasts were 'starved' by being refused food and water when they requested it, which led to instances of them being forced to smuggle refreshments in the linings of their suitcases.
Another child was allegedly and repeatedly targeted with a homophobic slur by a coach - something which was dismissed as a 'joke' by a welfare officer after a complaint was made, which led to further claims by Whyte that British Gymnastics was functionally incapable of handling complaints or allegations against its members.
Former British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen was also accused of incompetence and a “lack of leadership”, as well as am “organizational failure to appreciate the central importance of athlete welfare”.
“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,” Whyte wrote in her determination.
Both British Gymnastics and UK Sport have issued apologies in the wake of the allegations with Sarah Powell, who succeeded Jane Allen in the British Gymnastics top job, saying: “I am sorry – to them (the gymnasts) for what they have experienced, to their parents and all those around them.”
The world of gymnastics has been rocked by several scandals in recent years, most notably that of Larry Nassar - the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who was found to have sexually abused numerous women and girls under his care.