Anna Kes­sel

A note from our Women’s Sports Ed­i­tor

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Women's Sport Monthly -

There’s a new ob­ses­sion in our house: CBBC’s Gym­stars – a docu-series fol­low­ing the for­tunes of young Bri­tish gym­nasts at grass­roots level. My nine-yearold watches it ev­ery day on iPlayer, do­ing the splits on the carpet, her eyes glued to the TV watch­ing the prodi­gious ta­lent. Within each episode pops up a fa­mous Bri­tish gym­nast – Becky Downie and Nile Wil­son, among oth­ers – to demon­strate new tricks or chal­lenges to take on.

Ev­ery so of­ten my daugh­ter turns to me and beams. “Mum did you see that?!” she says. “I’d love to be a gym­nast.”

From the sofa I nod and smile. But, pri­vately, I am torn. Gym­nas­tics has been rocked by al­le­ga­tions of abuse. Cov­er­ing the sto­ries at Tele­graph Women’s

Sport has been har­row­ing. Young chil­dren’s lives de­stroyed through abu­sive coach­ing meth­ods, par­ents wracked with guilt. Now those same smil­ing stars – Downie and Wil­son, among scores of oth­ers – have re­vealed how the sport’s co­er­cive cul­ture dam­aged them. Know­ing what we know now, how many par­ents would feel com­fort­able send­ing their chil­dren back to the gym?

On What­sApp, par­ents ex­change thoughts and ad­vice. Does any­one know of a gym where par­ents can watch the ses­sions? Has any­one re­ceived an email from their gym ac­knowl­edg­ing the wave of neg­a­tive head­lines, or re­as­sur­ing par­ents on how they in­tend to sup­port the chil­dren? There is a shrug of the shoul­ders. No­body knows.

Eigh­teen months ago

Tele­graph Women’s Sport

launched the award-win­ning Girls In­spired cam­paign to help close the gen­der gap on women and girls’ phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. In the grip of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, shock­ing new fig­ures re­vealed in Jeremy Wil­son’s spe­cial re­port show the wor­ry­ing ef­fects of lock­down. Ex­clu­sive re­search, shared by the Youth Sports Trust, show that 73 per cent of chil­dren re­turn­ing to school have low lev­els of fit­ness, while 49 per cent are strug­gling with men­tal well-be­ing is­sues, such as anx­i­ety and fear. Gym­nas­tics, a com­mu­nity sport en­joyed by a mil­lion peo­ple ev­ery month – with a mil­lion more on wait­ing lists to join clubs – should be a key part of the so­lu­tion to this cri­sis, not fos­ter­ing doubt in par­ents’ minds over child safety.

As new lock­down re­stric­tions are rolled out across the na­tion this gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren are fac­ing a po­ten­tial health pan­demic of their own. When all the ev­i­dence shows us that chil­dren need sport and ex­er­cise for their phys­i­cal and men­tal health, we need now, more than ever, to pro­vide a safe and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for it to hap­pen.

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