Inquiry into bullying claim
➤ British Gymnastics launches inquiry as abuse claims grow ➤ Parents not told 10-year-old was ‘slapped’ by her coach
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”.