Chief ex­ec­u­tive urged to re­sign over abuse claims

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Molly McEl­wee

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

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