REVEALED: Shocking physical and emotional abuse in British gymnastics

REVEALED: Shocking physical and emotional abuse in British gymnastics

REVEALED: The shocking physical and emotional abuse in British Gymnastics is exposed as a damning report details incidents of children being sat on, spat at, slapped by coaches, fat shamed and even refused access to FOOD and the TOILET

  • The 306-page Whyte Review, by Anne Whyte QC, has laid bare the terrible abuse
  • The report received evidence from more than 400 people, with 40 per cent describing physical abuse and 50 per cent reporting emotional abuse
  • Allegations of sexual abuse also featured in 30 submissions
  • UK Sport and Sport England described the gymnasts’ testimonies as ‘harrowing and distressing’ and apologised 
  • However, they have refused to strip British Gymnastics of public funding for now

A shocking culture of physical and emotional abuse within gymnastics has been laid bare in the most damning report to ever be published about a British Olympic sport.

The Whyte Review has exposed incidents of children as young as seven being sat on, spat at and slapped by coaches, gaslighted, fat shamed and refused access to food and the toilet, leading to eating disorders and mental health issues.

Anne Whyte QC’s landmark 306-page report also said the ‘cash for medals’ culture within British Olympic sport may have contributed to the gymnastics scandal and called for an overhaul of the system.

UK Sport and Sport England – who co-commissioned the £3million independent investigation in 2020 – described the gymnasts’ testimonies as ‘harrowing and distressing’ and apologised.

However, they have refused to strip British Gymnastics of public funding for now, despite the report accusing the governing body of a ‘collective failure’ and prioritising performance over athlete welfare.

A shocking culture of physical and emotional abuse within gymnastics has been laid bare in the most damning report to ever be published about a British Olympic sport 

The Whyte Review has exposed incidents of children as young as seven being sat on, spat at and slapped by coaches, gaslighted, fat shamed and refused access to food and the toilet 

New British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell issued her own apology but she could not confirm whether any of the anonymous coaches accused of abuse in the report still worked for her organisation.

The Whyte Review received evidence from more than 400 people, with 40 per cent describing physical abuse and 50 per cent reporting emotional abuse. Allegations of sexual abuse also featured in 30 submissions.

The report found:

  • A seven-year-old girl was sat on by her coach while being forced to extend a stretch.
  • An elite gymnast was made to stand on a beam for two hours because she was scared to try a new skill, while others were left on equipment crying, bleeding or injured.
  • One athlete was told to climb a rope after she asked for a toilet break.
  • Coaches slapped gymnasts if they did not stand to attention and screamed in their face to the point they felt their spit.
  • Children who cried were made to watch themselves in a mirror or wear a dunce’s cap.
  • Gymnasts would be deprived of water and food, forcing them to hide it in their socks, knickers, the lining of their suitcases and ceiling tiles.

Whyte said 25 per cent of gymnasts who gave evidence complained about ‘excessive weight management’, with some girls weighed on a daily basis.

New British Gymnastics CEO Sarah Powell issued her own apology but she could not confirm whether any of the anonymous coaches accused of abuse still worked for her organisation

‘The tyranny of the scales was coach-led and quite unnecessary,’ she wrote. ‘Coaches went to damaging lengths to control what gymnasts ate and weighed, to the extent of searching luggage and rooms for food.

‘As a result, some gymnasts suffered from (and still suffer from) eating disorders and associated mental health issues.

‘Despite knowing of the risks associated with excessive weight control, BG failed to ensure that clubs and coaches, including national coaches, were acting responsibly.’

Whyte said other forms of mental abuse included ‘gaslighting, excessively controlling behaviour and suppressing athletes’ opinions and emotions’.

She wrote: ‘It appears to me that the scale of emotionally abusive behaviour in clubs was far larger than BG had appreciated.’

Physical abuse gymnasts experienced in training included ‘physical chastisement, inappropriate training on injury, the enforcement of excessive training hours and training loads’.

Whyte also detailed a ‘culture of fear’ within British Gymnastics, where athletes were afraid to question the methods of their coaches or raise complaints. She was said were ‘deep-seated’ and ‘long-standing’ cultural problems within the governing body.

‘Certain inappropriate coaching techniques and styles have been allowed to flourish within the sport at all levels for decades,’ wrote Whyte.

‘Unacceptable coaching practices were normalised and allowed to develop in some quarters in the pursuit of success.’

Whyte also criticised British Gymnastics for ‘marking their own safeguarding homework’ and was damning of their complaints procedure.

‘BG estimated that it had received some 3,500 complaints during the entire period but conceded that it had no overall record of complaints received between 2008 to 2016,’ admitted Whyte.

Responding to the report, UK Sport CEO Sally Munday denied the ‘cash for medals’ notion

She listed 17 recommendations for British Gymnastics to implement, while also questioning the entire ethos of British Olympic sport.

‘The ungenerous interpretation, is that the mission process was window dressing for those sports, like gymnastics, where medals were realistically anticipated and that the medals mattered more than amber ratings and more than athlete welfare,’ said Whyte.

‘I have no accurate way of assessing whether perceptions around “cash for medals” adversely affected the welfare gymnasts. When discussing the issue with the current chair of BG, he accepted BG’s own responsibility for managing the pressures on gymnasts that may derive from funding issues.

‘Sport England reflected in its meetings with me that its own historic performance-related targets had probably driven the wrong sort of behaviour in sport although it had no way of knowing whether it had caused abusive behaviour.

‘Medals will always be a metric for sporting success, and the tension between public funding of elite sport and the imperative to succeed is never going to be eliminated.

‘What can change is the culture of a given sport. This will only occur when the leadership of NGBs along with the leadership of funding bodies find ways of reassuring athletes (and coaches) and the public that the definition of success is squarely on a demonstration of excellence across all aspects of a world class programme and not primarily on medal hauls.’

Responding to the report, UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday denied the ‘cash for medals’ notion.

Powell was appointed at British Gymnastics last June, replacing Jane Allen (pic), who resigned in 2020 with a severance package despite being CEO for 10 years – the time of the scandal 

But she said: ‘We welcome today’s report and accept and endorse all of its recommendations.

‘The gymnasts’ experiences shared in this review are harrowing and distressing to read. We want to publicly acknowledge and thank all those courageous in coming forward.

‘As the report found, the assurance systems in place did not identify, until relatively recently, long-standing cultural problems in gymnastics. For this we are sorry.’

British Gymnastics chief executive Powell said: ‘To read the recollection of these individuals who’ve had such a poor experience of the sport, which has clearly affected them and they’ve suffered because of it, is not acceptable. 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. I looked them in the eye and said sorry.’

Powell was appointed at British Gymnastics last June, replacing Jane Allen, who controversially resigned in 2020 with a severance package despite being chief executive for 10 years – the time of the scandal.

‘All I can hope I think this is a watershed movement not just for gymnastics but safeguarding in all sports,’ added Powell.

In a statement, Allen said: ‘It’s been very hard to hear the painful experiences shared by people in a sport that I’ve been dedicated to for many years.

‘I’m deeply sorry I didn’t do more for everyone — especially the athletes — to feel supported, able to speak up and heard. This was under my leadership and it should have been different.’




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