Chief executive urged to resign over abuse claims
The abuse scandal engulfing British Gymnastics has led to calls for the resignation of chief executive Jane Allen. There have been numerous allegations that gymnasts had been bullied, beaten and starved. The
Daily Telegraph has also learned that British Gymnastics broke its own rules by not reporting to police or social services an accusation that a 10-year-old girl had been slapped by a coach.
Lucy Mein remembers being 12 and running around her gymnastics hall repeatedly. Legs heavy, she and her team-mates were struggling to keep going. But their coach said they could not stop until their teammate, who was standing nervously on the balance beam, performed a new move which she said she was too scared to try.
Mein says they kept running for an hour and a half while the young girl was humiliated. “The girl on beam was crying. She was feeling guilty because we were running, but was terrified of doing the move. That wasn’t safe for her.”
It is one of many punishments Mein, now 26, witnessed from age eight. Stories such as hers are becoming familiar, since a flood of abuse claims and accusations have been made against British Gymnastics coaches in recent days, forcing the national governing body to launch an independent review.
In Mein’s experience, girls were regularly screamed at and sworn at by her former coach. Though she never saw or experienced any physical abuse, she describes a “bullying culture” that made her feel “worthless”. She was scared to report injuries for fear of being tossed aside by her coach, who was already dismissing her as too old and not good enough, aged only 13.
After falling on her back during her bars routine at the London Youth Games, Mein broke a rib. But she hid the pain, knowing her place on the team aiming for British Championships qualification was already at risk.
“Three weeks later, on the way back from training, I screamed when we went over a speed bump,” Mein said. “My mum asked what was wrong, I was diagnosed with a punctured lung and complications that meant I was off school from September to February.”
A new coach told her parents to make an incident report to British Gymnastics a few months later, which they did, but nothing came from it. After her parents chased it up with BG, it said there was little they could do as both Mein and her former coach had moved on from the club.
“A few years later, my former coach was a BG coach running performance pathway clinics and pictured all over BG’s Instagram and YouTube,” Mein said. “That was hard. They shouldn’t have been so celebrated. British Gymnastics have to come out and say that that was wrong.”
British Gymnastics said that, due to its independent review, it would not be commenting on individual cases, but said: “The behaviours identified in media reports have no place in our sport.”
Former elite British gymnast Margaux Derakhshan is similarly frustrated with the governing body, after witnessing physical abuse and suffering emotional abuse from the age of five. Derakhshan, 19, says team-mates were pulled across the mat by the hair and thrown to the ground by their leotards. She had long-term damage to her shoulder after one session, where she had to repeat a move on the bars more than 50 times over three hours, before her shoulder gave way. She was nine. Since sharing her story, Derakhshan (below) has faced members of her former club trying to “discredit” her, which she says points to a culture of silencing and was one of the reasons she never made a formal complaint.
She said British Gymnastics must take responsibility, and its chief executive, Jane Allen, and other senior officials should resign. “The right thing to do would be to say, ‘We recognise this has happened and we haven’t done enough for our gymnasts’. Because they were aware, they supervise everything and they deal with the complaints, so they very much have swept a lot under the rug.”
Young hopes: Lucy Mein competes at a gymnastics event aged 11