Gymnast abuse: Report from Sport Integrity Australia reveals shock findings

Young Australian gymnasts were subjected to years of abuse from coaches — Sport Integrity Australia has confirmed in a bombshell new report.

Young Australian gymnasts were subjected to years of abuse from coaches — Sport Integrity Australia has confirmed in a bombshell new report.

The body on Wednesday released the findings of its independent investigation into the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Program.

It found young gymnasts were subjected to “verbal and physical abuse, unnecessary skinfold testing, weight-shaming, the expectation to train and compete with injuries, and extreme training loads”.

The review examined the culture of the Program between 1987 and 2016, included interviews and submissions from 92 participants including former athletes, parents, coaches and administrators, and more than 15,000 pages of documentation.

SIA chief executive David Sharpe praised the bravery of the athletes who shared their testimonies of abusive coaches — as the report found many were subjected to abuse or harm while in the WAIS program.

“The courage exhibited by these gymnasts in telling their stories will result in meaningful change ensuring greater protection of future athletes,” Sharpe said.

“Speaking up about abuse, harm, or any wrongdoing in sport can be difficult. But the athletes’ voices are now louder than ever and it is their voices that ensure we all better understand the issues.

“Sharing these experiences allows sporting bodies and government agencies like Sport Integrity Australia to develop processes, policies and education programs to significantly reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the future.”

SIA referred seven incidents to police for potential criminal investigation relating to sexual or physical abuse claims, but “none progressed to investigation or charges and have all been closed.”

‘Hands around my neck’: Horror abuse claims

Abuse described by gymnasts in the report ranged from punishments for being late, to verbal ostracisation and belittling, to physical abuse.

One gymnast said of her time with the Program: “The culture of the WAIS gymnastics program, I believe, is one that was accepted, encouraged and even at times celebrated in the physical, emotional and psychological abuse of its athletes.”

Another gymnast recounted the following experience: “[The coach] was yelling at me, how come your weight is up […] that’s when [they put their] hands around my neck and shook me.

“I was petrified. Absolutely petrified. […] There was no more discussion around it, I didn’t tell my parents. So, in retrospect I can see how I was protecting my abuser and it’s only, sort of just recently, that all of this is sort of coming up and me realising ‘wow’.”

A further gymnast told Sport Integrity Australia that “it was scary getting yelled at that age, getting told you are stupid”.

The same gymnast recalled the following experience: “Doing knee splits I remember being pushed that hard, bawling your eyes out then being told to stop, you are being stupid, you are being pathetic, everyone is laughing at you.

“I was smacked by [a coach] across my legs because I had a […] biscuit in my locker and an older girl dobbed me in, I got in a lot of trouble, I had to do dish rocks, on my back in a bowl position rocking back and forth for approximately an hour and a half.”

Culture to be looked at

The report didn’t investigate specific claims, or seek to take action against individuals — rather it looked at systemic issues plaguing the sport to improve the culture for young athletes now and in the future.

“Managing historical allegations of abuse in sport is inherently complex, due to the passing of time, the reliance on outdated policies, and jurisdiction issues that arise when respondents are no longer involved in sport,” Sharpe said.

“The Terms of Reference for this Review provided a safe way to hear and document participants’ experiences and learn from them, rather than a formal complaint handling process that would put gymnasts through investigations and hearings.

“Sport Integrity Australia’s focus now is on working with all sporting organisations, including WAIS, to ensure that their policies protect the athletes and participants of today and importantly, that complaints are handled independently.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *