The head of Italy’s Olympic committee has apologised to a group of former gymnasts who alleged they were bullied about their weight and diets by national team coaches.
Three former rhythmic gymnastics, including two double world champions made claims of abuse which nearly drove one of them to suicide in a series of interviews with daily La Repubblica last week.
“As president of the Olympic Committee... I feel the duty to apologise to any current or former athletes who may have suffered due to inappropriate behaviour,” CONI chief Giovanni Malago said in an interview with La Repubblica published on Monday.
Nina Corradini, Anna Basta and Giulia Galtarossa described how they had been castigated by coaches about their weight and diets.
Basta said she had twice thought about killing herself while 19-year-old Corradini quit the national set-up last year after spending “every minute of the previous few months wishing I could escape”.
World champion in 2009 and 2010 and now 31, Galtarossa detailed one degrading episode in which she was blasted by a coaching assistant for eating a pear while in a restaurant affiliated with the Italian gymnastics federation, and being handed her diet sheet with the message “we have a little piggy in the squad”.
Malago told La Repubblica that “anyone who has made mistakes will pay for them, if they have been made”.
“We need to work out if these were talking about individual errors or if there was a system that pushed people to make those errors,” added Malago.
The 63-year-old admitted that weight was “a crucial aspect of gymnastics, more so than in other sports”.
“A certain degree of rigour and harshness is inevitable, but it’s something else when you cross the line into violence and humiliation,” he said.
The revelations led to a meeting on Wednesday between Italy’s new sport minister Andrea Abodi, Malago and the president of the gymnastics federation Gherardo Tecchi, while representatives of the athletes demanded “a cultural revolution” in the sport.
Tecchi said that an investigation into the claims would be carried out, asking coaches and athletes to step forward and testify.