Review into abuse allegations in British gymnastics gets nearly 400 submissions

Mark Staniforth, PA Olympics Correspondent
·4 min read

Almost 400 submissions, including 39 so potentially serious they have been referred to the relevant statutory authorities, are being considered by the Whyte Review into allegations of abuse and bullying in British gymnastics.

In her interim report, Anne Whyte QC said the review continues to consider “positive and negative” submissions covering a range of issues, including “emotional abuse, physical abuse and a ‘culture of fear'”, with a view to publication of the final draft around August.

British Gymnastics said it remains “fully committed” to assisting the review, while the NSPCC, which jointly established a helpline for gymnasts to report cases of bullying and abuse, described the interim report’s findings as painting “a worrying picture”.

Over 90 clubs and 100 coaches have been identified among the submissions, 126 of which were provided by current and former gymnasts, with Whyte confirming that “many” but by no means all of the allegations relate to the elite level of the sport.

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Whyte wrote: “Some of the re-occurring issues emerging from the information I have received are of bullying, belittling, extreme weight management, regular over-stretching, use of excessive physical force, training on serious injuries, gas-lighting, coercive control and a reluctance to raise complaints/lack of opportunity to do so.

“In a significant number of cases, the individual sharing their experiences with the review continues to be impacted by their experiences in gymnastics, in some cases many years later.”

The review has analysed written and oral submissions to identify potential safeguarding issues, and to that extent it has made 39 referrals to the authorities, which has involved engagement with 27 local authority designated officers throughout the UK.

Gymnastics British Championships 2019 – Day Three – M&S Bank Arena
World medallist Ellie Downie has revealed her battle against weight-shaming (Peter Byrne/PA)

The Whyte Review was jointly commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England to investigate a growing number of allegations of mistreatment within the sport.

A helpline set up jointly by the British Athletes’ Commission and the NSPCC received 221 calls by the end of January, over half of which were referred to external agencies such as the police or social services.

Last month, a group of 17 former gymnasts, including three Olympians, served a letter before action on British Gymnastics, signalling their intention to commence legal action over alleged “systemic physical and psychological abuse”.

British Gymnastics interim chief executive Alastair Marks said he welcomed publication of the interim report, stressing the organisation is “fully committed” to helping the Whyte Review obtain the answers it needs.

European Games 2019 – Day Ten
Becky Downie is among the elite gymnasts to call for a cultural change within the sport (Martin Rickett/PA)

Marks said: “I remain appalled by the claims I have heard and alarmed that some gymnasts do not feel that they can have their voice heard and have a future within the sport.

“I want to be clear to them that I will fight to ensure that no one raising concerns will ever see their gymnastic opportunities detrimentally impacted. There is no place for abuse in our sport and we are determined and committed to change it for the better.

“It is important to say that I have been encouraged by my conversations with the gymnastics community, including current and former gymnasts and coaches. There is a clear commitment and desire for us all to work together to drive further positive change that I will ensure happens.”

But the head of the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit, Michelle North, stressed the importance of the review establishing the facts in order to secure a safe and healthy environment for future generations in the sport.

North said: “Young people should be able to take part in the sports they love without the fear of harm but this interim report, which includes details of contacts to our joint helpline with the BAC, paints a worrying picture.

“The Whyte Review must leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of uncovering exactly what has been happening within British Gymnastics to strive towards a better safeguarding culture in the sport and sharing this learning across the sector.”