A review by The Australian Human Rights Commission into Australian gymnastics has found the culture of the sport to be toxic and reported high risk for child abuse and neglect, misconduct, bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and assault towards athletes.
The review was commissioned by Gymnastics Australia In August 2020 after athletes used social media to make allegations that they were being both physically and mentally abused throughout their careers. The final report was published on Monday 3rd May 2021 and has made several key findings and a wide range of recommended changes.
The report, titled Change The Routine, said “Some of these risk factors also exist in many other sports, including significant power disparities between athletes and coaches and administrators. However, the commission found that the unique facets of gymnastics, including the extremely high proportion of young female athletes, contribute to a high-risk environment for abuse and for the maintenance and reinforcement of negative societal stereotypes and ideals around gender.”
The review assessed the overall culture of Gymnastics rather than investigating individual allegations or conducting proceedings against any subjects of concern.
- Current coaching practices create a risk of abuse and harm to athletes. Additionally, hiring practices for coaching staff lack accountability and there are inconsistent policies and systems to regulate their behaviour.
- There is insufficient attention to the understanding and prevention of the full range of behaviours that can constitute child abuse and neglect in gymnastics.
- A focus on ‘winning-at-all-costs’ and an acceptance of negative and abusive coaching behaviours has resulted in the silencing of the athlete voice and an increased risk of abuse and harm with significant short- and long-term impacts to gymnasts.
- There is an ongoing focus in gymnastics on the ‘ideal body’, especially for young female athletes. This, in addition to inappropriate and harmful weight management and body shaming practices, can result in the development of eating disorders and disordered eating which continue long after the athlete has left the sport.
- Gymnastics at all levels has not appropriately and adequately addressed complaints of abuse and harm and are not effectively safeguarding children and young people. Contributing factors include a lack of internal expertise and resources and complicated governance structure.
Australian Human Rights Commission Report - 12 Recommendations
- Transform education to skills development for coaches
- Strengthen coach engagement and accountability
- Develop a national social media policy
- Broaden the sport’s understanding of child abuse and neglect
- Encourage and promote athlete empowerment and participation
- Provide a formal acknowledgement and apology to all members of the gymnastics community in Australia who have experienced any form of abuse in the sport
- Develop a skills-based training and support program for all athletes to prevent and address eating disorders and disordered eating
- Develop and refine resources relating to body image, weight management practises and eating disorders, to improve consistency and support effective implementation
- Investigate all matters regarding child abuse, neglect, misconduct, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault externally of the sport
- Establish interim and ongoing oversight over relevant complaints at all levels of the sport
- Establish a toll-free triage, referral and reporting telephone service operated by SIA
- Align current governance with Sport Australia’s Sport Governance Principles more consistently and effectively
Gymnastics Australia said in a statement: “The Board of Gymnastics Australia will oversee the response to the report. The Gymnastics Australia Integrity Committee, that was established last year, will provide oversight of the implementation of the recommendations. We will regularly and transparently update the community on our progress.”
You can read the Australian Human Rights Commission report here.