Saturday, July 11, 2020

Sport and a Nation's Status

The head of British Gymnastics, who is facing calls for her resignation, has told member clubs she is “appalled and ashamed” by the multiple stories of abuse that have emerged in a harrowing and potentially far-reaching week for the sport in the UK. British Gymnastics has been aware of stories alleging abuse since as far back as 2017

 A growing number of gymnasts, including the world championship medallist Charlie Fellows and London 2012 Olympian Lisa Mason, are calling upon her to resign given what is alleged to have happened on her watch. There are also growing concerns that British Gymnastics’ independent review will not be independent enough.

What is also perhaps not widely understood enough is that abuse is not reported only by international gymnasts but also by young girls aspiring to regional or national level. As one former gymnast told the Guardian, the “culture wasn’t just expressed at the upper echelons of the sport; it reverberated downwards”.

The organisation held crisis talks as senior figures braced themselves for further damning accusations in the coming days. Already names such as Beckie and Ellie Downie, and Louis Smith, have made shocking claims of mental and physical abuse.

Lisa Mason, said she feared the review would be a “whitewash” unless it was truly independent. “I am sure some pieces on the chessboard are going to be moved,” she said. “But do I think all the people who knew what was going on will go? No. I also think some in the sport believe they are untouchable, despite so many people coming forward with stories of abuse. Gymnasts and coaches still fear that if they dare speak up then they will be silenced. That silence comes in many forms. Sometimes it might be an understanding that if they don’t say anything they will get a promotion.”

Time and again gymnasts have spoken of a culture of fear. The parent of one Olympian told the Guardian of a senior coach at a club telling parents not to speak out. 

The world championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie have joined the group of gymnasts speaking out about shocking abuse in the British team in a devastating statement which said “cruel” behaviour was “so ingrained in our daily lives that it became completely normalised”. They said they had faced “an environment of fear and mental abuse”, with constant questioning of their weight and attitude, as well as a level of over-training so severe their bodies repeatedly broke down.

Louis Smith has also accused British Gymnastics of not looking hard enough to solve the problem because it might affect the bottom line. It is certainly an open question why an organisation that received £16m from UK Sport since 2017 – and also makes millions from its 250,000 members has not established and funded better safeguarding systems across the sport.

There are more than 1,200 elite athletes on the world-class funding pathway (this means they have received an athlete personal allowance from UK Sport, the funding body for Olympic sport in Britain, and as such are already competing at an international level)

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