A note from our Women’s Sports Editor
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.