Gymnastics culture enabled abuse: report

·3-min read

An independent review into Australian gymnastics has found the sport's culture enabled physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the sport.

The report, completed by the Australian Human Rights Commission, made 12 key recommendations off the back of five key findings.

It found "current coaching practices create a risk of abuse and harm to athletes" and that there was "insufficient focus on understanding the full range of behaviours that can constitute child abuse and neglect in gymnastics."

It also noted the sport's focus on 'winning-at-all-costs' and an acceptance of negative and abusive coaching behaviours resulted in "the silencing of the athlete voice and an increased risk of abuse and harm".

The report noted gymnasts were "predominately young and female" - contributing to power imbalances.

Of the 231,200 athletes engaged in gymnastics around Australia in 2019, 77 per cent of gymnasts were female, while 91 per cent were under the age of 12.

Interviewees cited examples of strength training being used as a punishment, or "overstretching" exercises that had left them in tears or led to injuries - which in turn were often downplayed.

The report also found gymnastics at all levels had not "appropriately and adequately addressed complaints of abuse and harm" and didn't effectively "safeguard" children and young people.

Interviewees referenced grooming and inappropriate physical contact in public and private spaces - with one participant saying athletes had "signs and signals" to direct each other to avoid certain coaches, while parents often weren't permitted to watch or attend training sessions.

The report also found body-shaming was rife due to a focus on the "ideal body" - which for female competitors was a pre-pubescent "pixie-style" shape.

One participant detailed being called fat at the AIS when she was "11 years old and weighed 22 kilograms", while another recalled asking her mother to wrap her in glad wrap so she would sweat more.

Multiple interviewees continued to deal with related eating disorders and mental health issues into adulthood.

"There is a spotlight on the human rights of athletes around the world and many of the lessons of this review are critical to all sports in Australia," sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, who led the investigation, said.

"This is an opportunity for gymnastics in Australia to lead the way on child safety and gender equality."

Gymnastics Australia, which commissioned the report in August last year, apologised and committed to implementing all 12 recommendations.

"Gymnastics Australia unreservedly apologises to all athletes and family members who have experienced any form of abuse participating in the sport Gymnastics Australia said in a statement.

"We also thank the athletes and other community members who engaged in the review process and acknowledge their bravery in doing so."

The report included 47 interviews with 57 participants and 138 written submissions from current and former athletes and their families, staff, coaches officials, and administrators.

It did not investigate specific incidents or allegations of child abuse and neglect, misconduct, bullying, abuse, sexual harassment or assault.