Review finds British Gymnastics failed to tackle abuse


British Gymnastics failed for years to deal with abuse complaints as it prioritized financial growth and medals, according to a report by an independent investigator who calls for governance reforms.

The ‘Whyte Review’ is the culmination of an almost two-year investigation commissioned after prominent British gymnasts went public in the summer of 2020 on years of emotional and physical abuse by coaches.

“I have concluded that the welfare and well-being of gymnasts has not been central to BG’s culture for much of the review period,” Anne Whyte wrote in her 306 report. pages published on Thursday, “and this has not, until very recently, figured as prominently as it should have in the world-class program and in the development pathways used for talented gymnasts.

Abuses against gymnasts – mostly young girls – included bullying, dangerous weight management and physical force. A smaller percentage of cases involved sexual abuse.

“A former elite gymnast described being forced to stand on the balance beam for 2 hours because she was afraid to attempt a particular skill,” the report said. “There has been more than one submission about gymnasts tied to the bars for long periods of time, sometimes in great distress.”

Whyte, commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England, blamed former BG chief executive Jane Allen for a ‘lack of leadership and organizational failure’ over athlete welfare. Allen, who retired in 2020 after 10 years on the job, fostered a culture that prioritized membership and financial growth, according to the report.

“Unfortunately, the focus on financial security, while undoubtedly important, has not been matched by a board-level focus on culture, safeguarding, well-being and voices of gymnasts during the exam period,” Whyte wrote.

“These aspects of the sport were not commercially productive and their representation at board level had not previously been a condition of funding from organizations such as Sport England and UK Sport. The lack of focus on culture, well-being and safeguarding figured strongly and negatively in the submissions and their neglect cost BG dearly.”

Whyte received information from 400 people and there were 118 separate submissions to a British Athletes Commission hotline. They included 133 current and former gymnasts. Whyte has referred more than three dozen cases to law enforcement due to possible criminal activity. The review covered activity from 2008 to 2020.

Among his 17 recommendations, Whyte urged hiring a director of education, overhauling the case management system and appointing independent board members “with relevant professional protection expertise.” and well-being of athletes”. She also called on the government to appoint an independent ombudsman to protect children in all sports.

British Gymnastics said it accepted all recommendations and key findings.

“We will not hesitate to do what is necessary,” said CEO Sarah Powell, who was hired last October. “I would like to apologize wholeheartedly to the gymnasts who suffered because we did not perform to the standards we set for ourselves. We are sorry.

“We will now fully review the details of the review and put in place a roadmap that fully addresses the recommendations. We will build a new culture and ensure that the voice of gymnasts is at the heart of everything we do. We are going to change gymnastics for the better.”

British gymnasts came forward two years ago partly inspired by the documentary ‘Athlete A’ about sexual abuse in American gymnastics. The film chronicles the process of the women suing Larry Nassar, who, during his 29 years as a doctor for the United States women’s gymnastics team, used medical treatment as a pretext to assault hundreds of young athletes. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in 2018.

British Gymnastics is also facing legal action from women who have alleged that bullying, behavior control and inappropriate use of physical force against athletes as young as 6 is part of a mentality to “win at all costs”.

In the United States, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and dozens of other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar are demanding more than $1 billion from the FBI for not arresting the sports doctor when the agency received allegations against him for the first time.

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