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Environment ‘I’m appalled and ashamed’ – British Gymnastics boss responds to allegations of abuse in the sport
British Gymnastics boss Jane Allen says she is “appalled and ashamed” following allegations of abuse within the sport.
Chief executive Allen is under pressure after Olympians Becky and Ellie Downie claimed abusive behaviour in gymnastics became “completely normalised” and several athletes told the BBC of “a culture of fear” in the sport.
An independent review will take place.
“Any mistreatment of gymnasts is completely inexcusable,” Allen said in a letter to all member clubs.
“I pay tribute to those that have spoken out – their bravery will help drive change within gymnastics.”
She added that “we clearly need to do more and quickly” and that “fundamental issues within the athlete/coach relationship” have been highlighted.
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Allen said British Gymnastics will “not seek to influence” the review.
“The right thing is to ensure that an independent eye looks at the complaints raised this week and the systems we have in place,” Allen said.
On Thursday, the British Athletes Commission (BAC) said it had written to British Gymnastics and UK Sport about the review “to reiterate the need for a comprehensive, fair, and truly independent process”.
“Athletes must trust the integrity of the process and feel confident that they can provide further evidence without fear of retribution,” a BAC statement added.
The Downies say abusive behaviour in gymnastics training became “ingrained”.
“We certainly didn’t realise how wrong it was at the time,” they said in a statement on Twitter.
“While exact experiences obviously vary, we both recognise the environment of fear and mental abuse those before us have described so bravely.”
The Downies said they had previously been afraid to speak out.
British Gymnastics told BBC Sport on Thursday: “The behaviours we have heard about in recent days are completely contrary to our standards of safe coaching and have no place in our sport.
“It is clear that gymnasts did not feel they could raise their concerns to British Gymnastics and it is vital that an Independent Review helps us better understand why so we can remove any barriers as quickly as possible.
“This review will ensure that all those with concerns about safeguarding and abuse have the correct and proper channel to raise any issues.”
UK Sport ‘knew of abuse allegations’
The BBC has learned that UK Sport knew of allegations of abuse in gymnastics as recently as summer 2019.
After several gymnasts spoke out earlier this week, UK Sport, which funds Olympic sports in the UK, responded saying the allegations were “shocking and upsetting”.
But the BBC has seen emails from last year in which two different parents separately emailed UK Sport’s Head of Integrity in June and July 2019 regarding different allegations around safeguarding and alleged abuse.
A face-to-face meeting was due to take place between the head of integrity and one parent – but was later cancelled by UK Sport.
That parent said in an email: “I still hope that one day someone will finally listen and prioritise the welfare of children over medals. Perhaps you will be that person?”
A spokesperson for UK Sport told the BBC: “There is absolutely no place in sport for abuse or bullying of any description.
“It is important to note that UK Sport doesn’t have the authority to intervene in employment matters within a sport, but we are absolutely committed to draw on all available measures to ensure that the high performance system is a safe environment for all athletes.”