Gym­nas­tics hit by new abuse claims

For­mer cham­pi­ons speak out in wake of doc­u­men­tary Ma­son says oth­ers want to talk but fear con­se­quences

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ben Rumsby

Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics was last night reel­ing from a new child abuse scan­dal af­ter two women pub­licly ac­cused its coaches of hav­ing bul­lied, beaten and starved them.

Cather­ine Lyons, a for­mer ju­nior and Bri­tish cham­pion, and Lisa Ma­son, an Olympian and Com­mon­wealth Games gold medal­list, came for­ward in the wake of Ath­lete A,a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary about the USA Gym­nas­tics sex abuse scan­dal.

The duo were said to be among dozens of cur­rent or for­mer elite Bri­tish gym­nasts ac­cus­ing their coaches of hav­ing abused them, in­clud­ing some too ter­ri­fied to speak out for fear of be­ing axed ahead of next sum­mer’s Olympics.

Sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions were made three years ago dur­ing Bri­tain’s ath­lete wel­fare scan­dal, but yes­ter­day was the first time al­leged vic­tims went pub­lic with their sto­ries.

Lyons, 19, told ITV News she was di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and needed coun­selling for a year and a half fol­low­ing abuse that in­cluded be­ing “dragged” into a store cup­board aged seven or eight and “whacked” with a stick a few years later.

“As young gym­nasts, we’d get shouted at and screamed at and we’d get to the point of cry­ing and, in my case, I’d start hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing,” she said.

“And the way that was dealt with was very wrong. Ei­ther mu­sic in the gym would be turned up for the coaches to not here my cries and/or I’d be dragged into a store cup­board which, for a small, seven, eightyear-old girl was rel­a­tively big, but had noth­ing in it. I was the only one in there and I was left in there with the door shut to cry my­self to ex­haus­tion, ba­si­cally.

“We’d have to go out and say sorry to the coach for our be­hav­iour and for our bad at­ti­tude when, re­al­is­ti­cally, we were never the ones in the wrong.”

Lyons also re­called her coach hit­ting her with a stick so hard it “left a long line up my leg”. She added: “Any time she touched me and there was a bruise or a hand­print, it was al­ways, ‘Oh, you bruise re­ally eas­ily’.” She also claimed she was starved for a week af­ter be­ing told she was over­weight and not to eat any­thing, and was un­able to keep food down af­ter­wards.

Ma­son said she, too, was sub­jected to hor­ri­fy­ing abuse be­fore the age of 10. “My coach put me on the bars un­til my hands ripped and bled; my hands would then be pulled down and sur­gi­cal spirit would be poured all over them,” she said. “I would also have Astro­Turf put un­der the bars, so I would burn my feet if I didn’t keep them up. But every­one else is go­ing through it, so you think it’s nor­mal.”

She said she was also forced to pa­rade in her un­der­wear and told by her coach that she needed to lose weight, as well as be­ing locked in rooms and told she could not eat.

Ma­son said she was even given pain-killing in­jec­tions so she could carry on train­ing. “I was made to com­pete with a grade-three strain on my an­kle and a stress frac­ture in my shin.”

She claimed some cur­rent elite gym­nasts were suf­fer­ing in si­lence.

“A cou­ple have said to me they want to be more vo­cal but they’re con­cerned about their po­si­tion. ‘The Olympics is next year and we don’t want to rock the boat and up­set the peo­ple who make those de­ci­sions.’ They’re go­ing to be ready when they’re ready to speak out, but there are a lot of sto­ries from cur­rent gym­nasts that are ready to go, but now is not the right time.”

In a state­ment, Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics said: “Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics con­demns

‘Any time there was a bruise or hand­print, it was al­ways, Oh, you bruise re­ally eas­ily’

any be­hav­iour which is harm­ful to the well-be­ing of our gym­nasts. Such be­hav­iours are com­pletely con­trary to our stan­dards of safe coach­ing.

“Our Pos­i­tive Coach­ing Be­hav­iours pro­gramme which is manda­tory for all coaches, sets out clearly why such be­hav­iours are harm­ful and un­ac­cept­able. Our In­tegrity Unit in­ves­ti­gates all al­le­ga­tions of emo­tional abuse and bul­ly­ing that are re­ported to us or iden­ti­fied by our na­tional net­work of club Wel­fare Of­fi­cers and takes dis­ci­plinary ac­tion to pre­vent re­cur­rence.

“We have worked par­tic­u­larly hard in re­cent years to en­sure that our ath­lete and coach­ing cul­ture is trans­par­ent, fair and in­clu­sive.

“We have worked with our gym­nasts and taken spe­cific ac­tions to en­sure that their in­ter­ests and con­cerns are al­ways con­sid­ered and ad­dressed and that they have a choice of routes to raise con­cerns.

“Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics is reach­ing out to any gym­nast, ei­ther cur­rent or past, that has con­cerns around spe­cific in­ci­dents or be­hav­iours, and en­cour­ages them to con­tact our In­tegrity Unit.

“Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics is here for every gym­nast across the coun­try.”

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