Moutia: Abuse still hurts
> Nathalie Moutia, now 40, has twice reported bullying in the past and is furious the sport’s culture seems to be unchanged
Former British champion rhythmic gymnast Nathalie Moutia has revealed the extent of the abuse she suffered as a young competitor as the sport’s bullying controversy deepened. Moutia, who is now 40, represented Britain from the age of nine to 17, says she has suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of her experiences.
‘It’s actually inconceivable that this is still going on,” Nathalie Moutia says, the pain audible in her voice. At the age of 40, she has only recently come to terms with the abuse she suffered as a British champion rhythmic gymnast. “This will never, ever leave me, it’s a part of who I am, and that’s what makes me so upset with British Gymnastics. They don’t consider the impact on gymnasts, whether low, medium or high level. It ruins people’s lives – it ruined mine.”
On Monday night, Moutia had just put her children to bed when she switched on the evening news. She was blindsided by a story about abuse allegations in gymnastics leading the bulletin – and the many that have followed in recent days. Memories from 30 years ago suddenly flooded back.
“It was really hard to watch, because I’ve been living with it for such a long time,” Moutia says of watching the report. “I very recently had an official diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relating to my experiences, so it’s a little bit heightened in me. Thirty years ago we didn’t have safeguarding, but to think it’s still going on, I feel really angry about it.”
Images of a young Moutia, hair slicked back into a tight bun, her innocent face smiling as she accepted medals and trophies, do not tell the story of the verbal abuse she was forced to endure from coaches during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Representing Great Britain from age nine to 17, she recalls being starved from as young as nine, given only half a slice of brown bread and black tea for an entire day of training at international camps. When teams visited and trained with the British team in the UK, Moutia remembers seeing physical abuse.
“In training camps here, [British Gymnastics] would bring Russian coaches over with their gymnasts, and I’ve seen gymnasts slapped in the face. At 10 years old seeing that, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to be next’. It’s frightening.”
Her own coaches were emotionally abusive too, she says, instilling a regime built on punishment, to which other adults were privy. She describes being pulled to the bathroom and having water splashed on her face for “not concentrating enough” and being “humiliated” when fat-shamed in front of other gymnasts and coaches.
She went on the pill at a young age when she hit puberty, after being told: “You’ve got breasts now, which is a bad thing.”
“It almost becomes your normality,” Moutia says of the emotional turmoil. “It’s drilled in you, it’s a form of grooming. A coach once called me over to do a leg catch in front of a guest at our gym, and I remember feeling very embarrassed and told her I didn’t want to. She screamed at me and said just do it, so I did. At the end of the session she said, ‘If you ever say no to me again I’m going to make you do 1,000 double skips, and you probably can’t even count that far’.
“You want to go away with positive memories from the sport of travel and competing, but instead you come away with memories like that, which stick with you.”
Moutia has struggled with an eating disorder ever since. Therapy helped her connect her treatment as a child with abusive relationships she experienced as an adult. “You end up being more susceptible to abuse, because that’s all you know. You go in this cycle of being in abusive relationships and you don’t know where it stems from – and that’s where PTSD comes in. It literally has ruined my life, it has.”
Moutia called British Gymnastics to report the abuse five years ago, but says she never heard back. This week the national governing body was pressured into launching an independent review after allegations of widespread abusive coaching were made public. British Gymnastics said the coaching described had no place in the sport, and encouraged gymnasts to report their experiences, but would not comment on individual cases.
In 2016 Moutia made tentative steps back into gymnastics by volunteering at a club, but was shocked to find a culture just like the one she had experienced. “I had to leave, I felt disgusted about the way they were speaking to the gymnasts. One of the coaches was screaming at a child, saying their face is ugly. How is that acceptable? But culturally, it is – they think that is the way to get results. It took me back to exactly where I was, and is what I want to change.
“I’ve been through some of the hardest times in my life and come through that, and the fact it’s still going on today, I just don’t understand how it can continue.
“As many people as possible have to come forward to expose this. It’s extremely painful, I’ve accepted that it will be a memory I live with for the rest of my life.”
Memories: Nathalie Moutia aged four (far left), with the Mayor of Southwark in 2002 in recognition of her contributions to the sport (left), aged nine (right), aged 13 with her trophy won at the 1993 British Championships (far right) and competing at the same event (below)