LONDON (AP) – British Gymnastics has failed to address abuse complaints for years as it has prioritized financial growth, according to the report of an independent investigator calling for governance reforms.
The Whyte Review ‘ is the culmination of a nearly two-year investigation commissioned after prominent British gymnasts went public in the summer of 2020 about years of emotional and physical abuse by coaches.
“I have come to the conclusion that for much of the reporting period, gymnasts’ welfare and welfare was not at the heart of BG’s culture,” Anne Whyte wrote in her 306-page report released Thursday, “and it was until recently not featured as prominently within the world-class program and within the development paths for talented gymnasts as it should have.”
Abuse against female gymnasts – mostly young girls – has included bullying, unsafe weight management and physical violence. A smaller percentage of cases involved sexual abuse.
“A former elite gymnast described having to stand on the beam for two hours because she was afraid to attempt a particular skill,” the report reads. “There has been more than one complaint about gymnasts being strapped to the bars for long periods of time, sometimes in great distress.”
Whyte, on behalf of UK Sport and Sport England, blamed former BG boss Jane Allen for “a lack of leadership and an organizational failure” when it came to athlete well-being. Allen, who retired in 2020 after 10 years on the job, fostered a culture that prioritizes membership and financial growth, the report says.
“Regrettably, the focus on financial security, while undoubtedly important, was not accompanied during the reporting period by a board-level focus on culture, protection, welfare and the voice of gymnasts,” Whyte wrote.
“These aspects of sport have not been commercially productive and their representation at board level has not previously been a condition of funding from organizations such as Sport England and UK Sport. The lack of emphasis on culture, welfare and protection was portrayed strongly and negatively in the submissions and neglecting it has cost BG a lot of money.”
Whyte received information from 400 people and there were 118 separate submissions to a British Athletes Commission hotline. Among them were 133 current and former gymnasts. Whyte referred more than three dozen cases to law enforcement for possible criminal activity. The review covered activities from 2008 to 2020.
British gymnasts came forward two years ago, inspired in part by the documentary Athlete A ” about sexual abuse in US gymnastics. The film chronicled the trial of women seeking justice against Larry Nassar, who used medical treatments as an excuse to molest hundreds of young athletes during his 29 years as the USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in 2018.
British Gymnastics is also facing legal action of female complainants who alleged that bullying, controlling behavior and inappropriate use of physical force against athletes as young as 6 were part of a win-at-all-costs mentality.
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 by the FBI for failing to stop the sports doctor when the agency first received allegations against him.
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