Gymnastics Australia asks human rights group to probe abuse

There were complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers.

Gymnastics Australia CEO Kitty Chiller says the human rights commission would review all aspects of the sport.   -  REUTERS

Complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers has prompted Gymnastics Australia to ask a human rights group to investigate.

The gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallists, have recently spoken of a toxic culture within the sport. They also used social media platforms to detail fat-shaming and other forms of abuse.

Gymnastics Australia has asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to examine the sport’s culture and practices. The identities of the athletes were not disclosed.

“Over the last couple of weeks athletes have shared their personal experiences ... many of those experiences are, quite simply, not acceptable,” Gymnastics Australia chief executive officer Kitty Chiller said on Thursday. “They reinforce the need for more to be done to change the culture of gymnastics.”

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Chiller said the human rights commission would review all aspects of the sport. “The review will build an understanding of the culture of gymnastics in Australia and any barriers there may be in reporting behaviours that go against what we stand for — zero tolerance of any form of abuse,” Chiller said.

‘Strong signal’

The review, due to be completed by March, was welcomed by the Australian Olympic Committee. “Committing to an independent review of policies, practices and governance structures sends a strong signal to the gymnastics community and indeed the broader sporting community of their (Gymnastics Australia) commitment,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said.

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The investigation comes as the Dutch gymnastics federation suspended its women’s training program this week to investigate allegations of intimidation and abuse. The federation says coaches involved in the program will no longer have an active role until a probe into “unacceptable behavior and intimidation” is completed.

The move came with just under a year to go until the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. The announcement on Wednesday followed days of reports in Dutch media in which former gymnasts complained of intimidation and physical abuse by coaches.

Earlier this month, British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen announced an independent review of claims of mistreatment in the sport in Britain. Olympians Becky and Ellie Downie say they have suffered from abusive behaviour in gymnastics training for many years.

In Belgium, the Flemish gymnastics federation set up an ethics commission to look into allegations of abuse. And in the United States, hundreds of women came forward against Larry Nassar, the osteopathic physician who in his 29 years as the USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor used medical treatment as a guise for molesting hundreds of young athletes. He was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in 2018.

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