Otago Daily Times
Climate of fear, retribution exposed in report
WELLINGTON: A climate of fear and retribution has been highlighted by an independent investigation into the culture of Gymnastics New Zealand.
The investigation was established following complaints by gymnasts to the media last year about the mistreatment of athletes in the sport.
Ten overarching areas of concern were identified by a threemember review panel headed by sports integrity specialist David Howman.
The three month review process was completed in December 2020, and released to the public yesterday, with more than 200 respondents.
Athletes and parents told the review panel of incidences of gymnasts being forced to train on injuries and fearing repercussions and the disapproval of coaches if they did not train injured.
Parents described feeling ‘‘powerless to intervene’’ when they did witness ‘‘poor behaviour’’ out of fear of retribution for themselves or their children.
The lack of a confidential way for gymnasts to ‘‘have their voices heard in a way that does not carry risk of retribution or isolation’’, was criticised by the review panel which suggested forming an athlete commission or union for the sport.
Coaches who perpetrated a cycle of abuse were a problem, the review noted.
‘‘Many coaches were brought to New Zealand over the last three decades with the goal of seeking international success for gymnasts here, and the introduced abusive coaching practices which became normalised.’’
Some submitters said they had ‘‘lost trust in GNZ’’ and that feedback was ignored by the organisation.
The review also highlighted the power imbalance between adult coaches and child gymnasts and that coaches became ‘‘pseudoparents’’ during the long hours the athletes spent training.
Among the panel’s recommendations were:
• Seek advice from Sport NZ, the Children’s Commissioner and Oranga Tamariki on establishing a complaint and reporting of abuse process.
• Request SNZ consider the establishment of a national independent commission.
• Ensure there are qualified investigators available to the gymnastics community when misconduct allegations arise.
• Create a medical and health advisory panel to advise on injury management and training limits and appoint a medical director for the elite programme.
• Allow parents to watch training from a viewing area.
Gymnastics New Zealand planned to have a sevenmember steering committee in place by March to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.
The panel would include survivors, athletes and human rights representation alongside representation from the gymnastics community and SNZ.
‘‘We offer our sincerest apology to every person who was hurt or suffered during their time taking part in our sport,’’ Gymnastics NZ CEO Tony Compier said, adding GNZ had committed to ‘‘attitudinal and behavioural change . . . to make sure the athletes’ wellbeing and safety are always paramount’’. — RNZ