Otago Daily Times

Climate of fear, retributio­n exposed in report

- FELICITY REID

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

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