Commission to hear abuse cases in gymnastics branded ‘not fit for purpose’

<span>Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

An independent complaints commission set up by British Gymnastics to hear abuse cases has been called “not fit for purpose” after it emerged that it had failed to ban a single coach over the past 18 months.

The campaign group Gymnasts for Change said there was now a “complete crisis of confidence” among its members in the process and it had written an open letter to British Gymnastics, UK Sport and Sport England calling for the commission to be immediately paused.

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Gymnastics for Change also accused the process of being “stacked heavily in favour of the coaches” as witnesses were not consulted or given the opportunity to represent themselves at their own cases. And it expressed deep frustration that case in which British Gymnastics had sought a lifetime ban and expulsion of a coach had collapsed and failed.

“This is despite rigorous investigations finding behaviour so egregious that this ultimate sanction was sought,” it said. “As a result of these case failures, coaches known to have abusive behaviours are still in the system and able to coach.”

The scale of abuse in gymnastics was laid bare in a devastating review published in June 2022 by Anne Whyte KC, who found that girls as young as seven were sat on by coaches to “overstretch” their bodies, while others were strapped to bars for long periods of time as punishment.

Elite athletes, meanwhile, were starved, body-shamed and abused in a system that ruthlessly put the pursuit of medals over the protection of children.

The aim of the independent complaint process (ICP) was to provide gymnasts with an alternative way to report abuse cases – rather than go directly to British Gymnastics, which many distrusted. However the commission, which is overseen by Sports Resolutions and Christopher Quinlan KC, is now in the dock.

“Our members tell us that there are very serious problems with the independent complaints process,” the campaign group said in a statement.

“Both British Gymnastics and Gymnasts for Change desperately want to see abusive coaches robustly sanctioned via the ICP but, devastatingly, to date not one of our cases have had a positive outcome and no coaches made known to the Whyte review have been banned or expelled from membership of the national governing body.”

Gymnasts for Change says many gymnasts involved in hearings scheduled for the new year are considering withdrawing from the process.

“It is some three years since the establishment of the ICP with nothing to show for it, other than members involved in the process contacting us to express their dismay. The overwhelming feeling is that it is not fit for purpose and there is a complete crisis of confidence in it amongst the gymnast complainants and their families.”

In a statement in response, British Gymnastics said: “We recognise the impact it has for all involved in the complaints process, and the time taken to resolve cases can cause a high level of frustration, anxiety and distress. We received and read the open letter shared by Gymnasts for Change and are encouraged that they wish to re-engage with us to help ensure everyone can enjoy gymnastics safely.

“We have and continue to meet regularly with other groups including current and former gymnasts, parents, coaches and clubs to inform our actions.”