In­quiry into bullying claim

➤ Bri­tish Gymnastics launches in­quiry as abuse claims grow ➤ Par­ents not told 10-year-old was ‘slapped’ by her coach

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ben Rumsby sport in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­porter

Bri­tish Gymnastics has bowed to pres­sure to or­der an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into claims that girls have been bul­lied, beaten and starved while tak­ing part in the sport. There were fresh al­le­ga­tions yes­ter­day, in­clud­ing one that a young fe­male gym­nast had been tied to a hor­i­zon­tal bar and was then left hang­ing in pain.

Bri­tish Gymnastics was last night fac­ing damn­ing ac­cu­sa­tions that girls as young as seven were still be­ing abused by their coaches, af­ter an­nounc­ing an in­de­pen­dent re­view into claims chil­dren in­volved in the sport had been bul­lied, beaten and starved.

A Welsh cham­pion be­came the youngest al­leged vic­tim to speak pub­licly, Paige South­ern-Rea­son claim­ing that, when aged seven, she had been tied to a hor­i­zon­tal bar and left hang­ing in pain at a for­mer gym while her cries were ig­nored. Now eight, she told ITV News she had been pushed “harder and harder” in train­ing de­spite her tears and that she had been shouted at in front of a room full of peo­ple.

It also emerged yes­ter­day that Bri­tish Gymnastics did not tell the par­ents of one of the al­leged vic­tims who spoke out on Mon­day that a coach had been ac­cused of slap­ping her when she was only 10.

The gov­ern­ing body last night bowed to pres­sure to com­mis­sion an in­quiry it said would be con­ducted by lead­ing sports bar­ris­ter Jane Mulc­ahy QC amid fears there were dozens of vic­tims, in­clud­ing some too ter­ri­fied to speak out for fear of be­ing axed ahead of next sum­mer’s Olympics.

Jane Allen, its chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “The be­hav­iours we have heard about are com­pletely con­trary to our stan­dards of safe coach­ing and have no place in our sport. The Bri­tish Gymnastics In­tegrity Unit is set up to in­ves­ti­gate all al­le­ga­tions when re­ported or iden­ti­fied by our na­tional net­work of club and re­gional wel­fare of­fi­cers.

“How­ever, 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.

“There is noth­ing more im­por­tant for Bri­tish Gymnastics than the wel­fare of our gym­nasts at ev­ery level of our sport, and we will con­tin­u­ally strive to cre­ate a cul­ture where peo­ple feel they can raise any con­cerns that they may have.”

As well as hav­ing 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the civil courts, ar­bi­tra­tion and sports tri­bunals, Mulc­ahy sits on the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board ap­peals panel in child pro­tec­tion cases, is an anti-cor­rup­tion hear­ing of­fi­cer for ten­nis and an ap­peal stew­ard for the Bri­tish Board of Box­ing Con­trol. She is also on Sport Res­o­lu­tions’ pan­els of ar­bi­tra­tors and me­di­a­tors.

Her ap­point­ment came af­ter it emerged that for­mer ju­nior cham­pion Catherine Lyons was al­legedly hit by a coach hard enough to leave a hand­print on her thigh when she was aged just 10. Wit­nesses told Bri­tish Gymnastics about the al­leged in­ci­dent in 2012 but, de­spite the coach be­ing briefly sus­pended and asked to un­der­take safe­guard­ing train­ing, the gov­ern­ing body did not in­form her par­ents of the claims and the pair did not be­come aware of them un­til years later.

The coach con­tin­ued to train girls un­til 2017, when ad­di­tional ac­cu­sa­tions prompted a fur­ther sus­pen­sion and a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, al­though no charges were brought. Bri­tish Gymnastics yes­ter­day ad­mit­ted it had made “an er­ror in not no­ti­fy­ing the gym­nast’s fam­ily in re­gard to the con­cerns raised in 2012”. Lyons has also said she was “dragged” into a store cup­board and “whacked” with a stick, one of sev­eral ac­cu­sa­tions to have en­gulfed Bri­tish Gymnastics since the re­lease of Ath­lete A, a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary about the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scan­dal.

What was threat­en­ing to be­come an­other #metoo mo­ment for the sport last night prompted calls for any­one re­spon­si­ble to be held ac­count­able. Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow cul­ture sec­re­tary, said: “The ac­counts of bullying and abuse within Bri­tish gymnastics are heart­break­ing. The brave gym­nasts who have spo­ken out have prompted an out­pour­ing on so­cial me­dia from other women sug­gest­ing this is just the tip of the ice­berg.”

The Gov­ern­ment has al­ready called the ac­cu­sa­tions “ap­palling”, sen­ti­ments echoed yes­ter­day by its fund­ing bod­ies, Sport Eng­land and UK Sport. A Sport Eng­land spokesper­son said: “Our pri­or­ity is not just that th­ese shock­ing al­le­ga­tions are dealt with ap­pro­pri­ately, but also that the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment is one where all ath­letes and par­tic­i­pants in a sport feel safe.”

A UK Sport spokesman branded the al­le­ga­tions “shock­ing and up­set­ting”. UK Sport urged those af­fected to con­tact the Bri­tish Ath­letes Com­mis­sion.

One al­leged vic­tim, Natalie Moutia, posted on Twit­ter: “I need to fight this hav­ing suf­fered PTSD all my life hav­ing been a rhyth­mic gym­nast in team GB. We need to speak up and heard!” Louis Smith praised Lyons for do­ing just that, hail­ing her as “so so brave”.

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