In July 2020, a significant group of gymnasts made allegations regarding the mistreatment they had faced within the sport of gymnastics. As a result, UK Sport and Sport England commissioned Anne Whyte QC, to undertake an independent review and the findings have been damning.
The Review detailed incidents of athletes being made to train on injuries, punished for needing the toilet, sat on by coaches, being subject to emotional abuse and having their bags searched for prohibited food. It has been stated that physical and emotional abuse within gymnastics in Britain were ‘systemic’ and that the difficulties that the governing body ‘British Gymnastics’ are now facing are ‘borne of inadequate practice and procedure’.
The Review focused on the period between August 2008 to August 2020 and received more than 400 submissions. Out of the 400-plus submissions, more than 40% described physically abusive behaviour towards gymnasts by coaches, including physical chastisement, inappropriate training on injury, withholding food and access to the toilet. More than 50% reported an element of emotional abuse by coaches, such as swearing and name calling. Around 30 submissions included allegations of sexual abuse, including sexual assault, sexual remarks and inappropriate touching and kissing as a punishment.
During the period covered by the Review, British Gymnastics received more than £38 million in UK Sport funding. They also received approximately 3,800 complaints. A male gymnast reported being slapped because of having un pointed toes or bent knees and another stated that they would be slapped if they had not stood to attention. One gymnast was deliberately dropped from equipment and dragged across the gym floor by their arms, while others were pressured to train on broken bones.
Nicole Pavier, spoke to BBC Sport in July 2020 and describes the ‘culture of fear’ in gymnastics. Pavier alleged that gymnasts were weighed twice a day sometimes and has stated that; ‘being an adult now, you really realise how much it has affected you, from the eating disorders, the chronic pain, waking up having nightmares every night and never feeling good enough’. Of the hundreds of submissions referred to in the Review, more than 25% included reference to excessive weight management. Many gymnasts reported still suffering psychological effects, including anxiety and depression, for which some remain on medication and others are receiving therapy.
The Review makes for a harrowing read, detailing continued abuse that had evidently become so normalised in the world of gymnastics. In addition to her 17 recommendations, Anne Whyte QC, stated that a Sports Ombudsman would be ‘an obvious step in the right direction’.
Farleys are specialists in assisting clients who have been victims of abuse. Our team has specifically dealt with individuals who have suffered abuse through their time in competitive sport and have helped them to receive damages and a sense of closure. To discuss the possibility of making a claim with one of our team in confidence, please call 0330 134 6430, by email, or through the online chat below.