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Monday, 20 Jun 2022 8:13 AM MYT

LONDON, June 20 — Recommendations made in a damning report into a toxic culture within British gymnastics are “too little, too late to change a culture of mistreatment”, according to a campaign group representing athletes.

The independent Whyte Review, commissioned in 2020 after a host of complaints from high-profile British gymnasts and published on Thursday, revealed “systemic” abuse in the sport.

Safeguarding failures from junior to elite level were catalogued by lawyer Anne Whyte from more than 400 submissions, over half of which reported some form of emotional abuse, with nine percent involving sexual abuse.

“I have concluded that gymnasts’ well-being and welfare has not been at the centre of (governing body British Gymnastics’) culture for much of the period of the review,” she wrote.

Despite a “genuine apology” from the new British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell, those affected cast doubts on the ability of the organisation to implement change and said the review did not go far enough.

Gymnasts for Change, which represents many of the athletes who have made allegations against British Gymnastics, said while it welcomed the review, “ultimately, the recommendations fall far short of what is needed”.

It added: “This is too little, too late to change a culture of mistreatment. Every day without holistic and wholesale change another gymnast is put at risk and these recommendations fall far short of the change needed.”

Whyte revealed horrific personal testimonies, including over-stretching to the extent a gymnast feared their legs would “snap”, food and drink deprivation that led to eating disorders, and emotional abuse including ridiculing gymnasts who cried or needed to go to the lavatory.

Whyte accused Powell’s predecessor Jane Allen, who retired in December 2020, of a “lack of leadership” and presiding over an “organisational failure… to appreciate the central importance of athlete welfare”, and said both British Gymnastics and UK Sport focused on medal success rather than athlete welfare.

She called on the governing body to ensure its complaints system was “fit for purpose” and urged it to appoint both board members with specific expertise in safeguarding and a director of education with overall responsibility for the education of coaches and welfare officers.

Powell said British Gymnastics accepted all the recommendations in the report and “will not shy away” from taking the steps required to restore confidence in the governing body and the sport as a whole.

‘Culture of fear’

Four-time Olympic medallist Louis Smith said the governing body should be under no illusions that it had plenty of work ahead before it could rid itself of its association with a “culture of fear”.

Smith tweeted: “If you’re wondering if the culture of fear is gone in British gymnastics, then take a look to see how many active competing GB gymnasts publicly support the Whyte review.

“British gymnastics need to remember they don’t own anyone and having an opinion isn’t an attack!!”

Earlier this month, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and other star US gymnasts filed a US$1 billion (RM4.4 billion) claim against the FBI for alleged mishandling of the investigation into sexual abuse by predatory former team doctor Larry Nassar.

Nassar, 58, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting athletes while working as a sports medicine doctor at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

In May, a group of gymnasts filed a claim against Gymnastics Canada and the federation’s provincial counterparts for having tolerated a climate of abuse and mistreatment for decades. — AFP