‘We let down GB’s young gym­nasts’

Gov­ern­ing body chief Allen says ‘mis­takes have been made’ Grey-Thompson’s call for sports om­buds­man backed

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Gym­nas­tics By Ben Rumsby

The chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics to­day ad­mits the gov­ern­ing body has “fallen short” in pro­tect­ing its mem­bers and backs calls for the cre­ation of an om­buds­man in the wake of the abuse scan­dal which has en­gulfed the sport. Writ­ing ex­clu­sively for The Daily Tele­graph, Jane Allen de­clared it was “in no one’s in­ter­ests” for sport to “po­lice it­self ” af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics had lost the trust of some of those toward whom it had a duty of care.

It was Allen’s first ma­jor in­ter­ven­tion in a cri­sis which has sparked calls for her res­ig­na­tion fol­low­ing an avalanche of al­le­ga­tions that gym­nasts had been bul­lied, beaten and starved. The cre­ation of a sports om­buds­man was the lead­ing rec­om­men­da­tion of a gov­ern­ment-com­mis­sioned re­port writ­ten by Par­a­lympic cham­pion Baroness Tanni GreyThomp­son three years ago.

Allen wrote: “This is not just an is­sue for gym­nas­tics. Baroness Grey-Thompson was right when she said, in 2017, that sport should not po­lice it­self. It is in no one’s in­ter­ests and sport needs help. We have tried to do our best to pro­tect our mem­bers and, while we have suc­ceeded in many cases, in oth­ers we have fallen short.

“Ath­letes and coaches will of­ten feel ag­grieved if the process does not find in their in­ter­ests and worry the sys­tem is against them. We must find new ways to ex­plain why de­ci­sions have been made.

“We back Baroness Grey-Thompson’s call for the cre­ation of a sports om­buds­man.”

Al­most none of Grey-Thompson’s rec­om­men­da­tions – in­clud­ing the cre­ation of a sports om­buds­man

– were im­ple­mented, with more than one source say­ing that UK Sport lob­bied against them be­cause it felt it could solve the ath­letewel­fare cri­sis it­self.

But amid calls for greater in­de­pen­dence in the sys­tem in the wake of the gym­nas­tics scan­dal, UK Sport chair Dame Kather­ine Grainger told The Tele­graph its board was poised to dis­cuss trig­ger­ing an “in­dus­try-wide” look at how the sec­tor han­dled in­tegrity-re­lated mat­ters.

If bad things hap­pen in any sport, a light must be shone upon them. Those that speak out about mis­treat­ment in gym­nas­tics must be heard. And change must fol­low.

When sto­ries of mis­treat­ment in gym­nas­tics first ap­peared in the me­dia five weeks ago, I was ap­palled and ashamed. Over the past 10 years we have worked hard and in­vested sig­nif­i­cant re­sources to strengthen our safe­guard­ing and com­plaints team, which to­day stands as an in­tegrity unit of 12 peo­ple with re­spon­si­bil­ity to im­par­tially in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of abuse, bul­ly­ing, un­fair treat­ment and fail­ures to com­ply with our rules.

While our safe­guard­ing sys­tems, pro­cesses and staff per­for­mance have been au­dited, ac­cred­ited and cham­pi­oned by lead­ing ex­perts in the field, we clearly must do more.

Com­plaints that have been heard and judged by in­de­pen­dent ex­perts are be­ing ques­tioned by gym­nasts who be­lieve they have not been “backed” by the sys­tem. Some com­plaints made through the me­dia in re­cent weeks have never been seen by our in­tegrity unit.

In the past five years, there has been an av­er­age of 300 re­ports per an­num made to the in­tegrity unit, rang­ing from al­le­ga­tions of poor prac­tice and rule-break­ing to more se­ri­ous claims of mis­con­duct and abuse. Re­cent events demon­strate that bar­ri­ers to com­plaints ex­ist, and change is needed to re­store con­fi­dence in the fair­ness of the process. We must work harder to ex­plain the im­por­tance of a sys­tem that pro­tects in­tegrity for all par­ties in­volved. At present, that is not the case, with emerg­ing con­cerns of bias against gym­nasts.

Some of the re­cent claims made through the me­dia are not ap­pro­pri­ate for a na­tional gov­ern­ing body to re­but in pub­lic. We can­not be pulled into a pub­lic de­bate with in­di­vid­ual gym­nasts over the de­tails of their cases; they are our mem­bers and we have a duty of care to them and oth­ers in­volved in the process. Even when we fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with some of the things said, and have recorded ev­i­dence to back it up, it would be wrong to en­gage in a trial through the me­dia when, in some in­ci­dences, only a par­tial view could be aired in hugely com­plex and legally priv­i­leged cases.

This is not just an is­sue for gym­nas­tics. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was right when she said, in her re­port in 2017, that sport should not po­lice it­self. It is in no one’s in­ter­ests and sport needs help. We have tried to do our best to pro­tect our mem­bers and, while we have suc­ceeded in many cases, in oth­ers we have fallen short. Ath­letes and coaches will of­ten feel ag­grieved if the process does not find in their in­ter­ests and worry that the sys­tem is against them. We must find new ways to ex­plain why de­ci­sions have been made. At present, the mis­trust from those judged against leads to a vi­cious cy­cle that threat­ens the en­tire process.

We back Baroness GreyThomp­son’s call for the cre­ation of a sports om­buds­man to hold gov­ern­ing bod­ies to ac­count and to pro­vide a higher level of re­view for con­tro­ver­sial cases. Such a move would pro­tect the ath­letes, coaches and in­di­vid­ual sports. All need some­where un­equiv­o­cally in­de­pen­dent to go when cases are com­plex or con­tro­ver­sial.

The emer­gence of an om­buds­man may take a while to hap­pen. In the mean­time, we fully sup­port the in­de­pen­dent re­view of gym­nas­tics be­ing over­seen by UK Sport and Sport Eng­land. We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing it re­ceives all the records it re­quires from Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics with­out prej­u­dice. In­deed, we are pas­sion­ate that the is­sues it con­sid­ers should not be judged on par­tial in­for­ma­tion but should be heard in an in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial man­ner that is fair to all.

Gym­nas­tics is a hugely im­por­tant ac­tiv­ity for more than 400,000 par­tic­i­pants across the UK. It can­not func­tion with­out the com­mit­ment of coaches, gym­nasts, clubs and vol­un­teers who give up their time to make our sport an im­por­tant part of their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Change is needed to pro­tect ev­ery one of them in the fu­ture. The in­de­pen­dent re­view will en­sure lessons are learnt, and change is made. We have no doubt our sport will be bet­ter for it.

Any­one who feels they have been mis­treated in our sport can play their role in help­ing to change the sport for the bet­ter by re­port­ing their con­cerns to our in­tegrity unit at in­tegrity@ bri­tish-gym­nas­tics.org or by call­ing the BAC/NSPCC Helpline on 0800 056 0566.

Cry­ing foul: Claims of abuse have dogged gym­nas­tics in re­cent weeks, with Jane Allen back­ing Baroness Tanni GreyThomp­son’s call for an in­de­pen­dent sports om­buds­man

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.