An independent review of gymnastics in Australia has found evidence of a toxic culture that has contributed to physical, emotional and sexual abuse of young athletes.
Austrian gymnastics last August asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to study the culture and practices of the sport following complaints from at least 20 former gymnasts, including Olympic and British Community medalists, about physical and mental violence during their careers.
The report’s findings were published on Monday, with the Commission identifying that the key drivers of the problems are: a cost-effective approach, the young age of gymnasts, a culture of control and tolerance of negative behavior.
Kate Jenkins, Australia’s commissioner for sexual discrimination, said the gymnasts shared experiences of abuse, misconduct and harassment, and the review found “significant cultural challenges … covering coaching practices, the health, safety and well-being of gymnasts, grief, investigations and management. “
Gymnastics Australia described the report as confrontational, highlighting the problems of “silencing the athlete’s voice, unhealthy focus on the ideal body”, especially for young athletes, and adopting archaic and authoritarian coaching practices. “
In a statement, Gymnastics Australia said it would accept all 12 recommendations for improvement contained in the report and “unreservedly apologize to all athletes and family members who have experienced any form of violence involved in sport.”
“We also thank the athletes and other community members who took part in the review process and acknowledge their courage in doing so.” More than 320,000 people practice gymnastics in Australia, about three-quarters of them women. The report includes 47 interviews with 57 participants and 138 written statements from current and former athletes and their families, employees, coaches and administrators.
It does not investigate specific incidents or allegations of child abuse and neglect, misconduct, harassment, abuse, sexual harassment or violence.
The call for an investigation followed a decision by the Dutch Gymnastics Federation to suspend its women’s training program to investigate allegations of intimidation and abuse, as well as other reviews in the UK, Japan and New Zealand.
In the United States, hundreds of women have come out against Larry Nasar, an osteopath who, in his 29 years as a doctor on the women’s gymnastics team in the United States, used medical treatment as a cover for hundreds of young athletes. In 2018, he was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison.