Gymnasts demand action from governing bodies after abuse scandals | Gymnastic


A global alliance of gymnasts will ask the sport’s governing body and the International Olympic Committee to make major reforms to avoid shocking new abuse scandals, the Guardian has learned.

Advocacy groups representing abused gymnasts have joined forces to call on the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to review the minimum age for athletes to compete, introduce significantly stricter welfare standards and establish an international register of banned coaches.

The groups – which include Gymnasts for Change in the UK, Gymnasts Alliance in the US and others in Australia, New Zealand and Canada – believe the FIG and IOC have failed to address the issues undercurrents exposed by Athlete A, the Netflix documentary about former US gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, the Whyte review of British gymnastics and other major scandals.

As it stands, female gymnasts can compete at international level from the age of 16 – which forces them to specialize at a very young age and also pushes them to train for long hours when their body is still developing. However, many believe that raising the age to 18, the same age as male competitors, would allow them to step up their training when they are older.

Gymnasts from several countries have also reported shocking stories of sexual, physical and mental abuse as well as fat shaming and cultures where medals take precedence over athlete well-being.

The Whyte review, which was published on Thursday, also revealed that coaches were sitting on girls as young as seven in a bid to improve their flexibility while some gymnasts hid food in their panties and in hotel ceilings because they were so starved of their coaches. .

Kevin McKeever, communications director for Gymnasts for Change UK, confirmed to the Guardian that the groups are now working together and hope to pressure the FIG and the IOC to make fundamental reforms.

He said the groups had realized there was little they could do in reforming national bodies and that the fight for change now had to be waged at the international level.

“While the Whyte Review marks a major step in reforming the sport we love in the UK, together with our campaigning colleagues in other countries, our attention now turns to international governing bodies whose control over aspects importance of sport is absolute,” he added.

The FIG declined to comment on a specific call in the Whyte review asking her to raise the minimum age to compete in senior women’s competition from 16 to 18 to “reduce disproportionate training pressures on young girls”. However, he said in a statement: “In recent years, the FIG has worked on several initiatives to raise awareness of youth protection and encourage its Member National Federations to adopt best practices, notably with the campaign ‘The 10 Rules of Youth. ‘gold of gymnastics’.

Meanwhile Becky Downie, who won 14 major medals for Team GB and England during a glittering career before speaking out about the abuse she suffered in 2020, said she welcomes the Whyte report.

“I didn’t want to respond until I had enough time to properly read and digest everything in the ad,” she said. “But 24 hours later, my overwhelming feeling is that we have been heard.”

Downie, who said she was forced to train with a broken ankle and described as mentally weak, added: ‘It feels like vindication to myself and to so many people who have known the serious cultural issues of sport. Already this year, I have seen a radical change in the approach of the country’s top gymnasts.

However, an agent representing many top gymnasts, some of whom are among 40 taking legal action against British Gymnastics, said the overwhelming feeling was that the governing body still needed to do more.

“The gymnasts I represent feel vindicated because the stories of their abuse have been confirmed and validated, when for years they suffered in silence,” the agent said. “But no one has been held accountable yet. And the athletes still don’t know if the next time they walk into the gym the same attackers will still be there. They want accountability and feel British Gymnastics needs to do more to eradicate abusive coaches.


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