Gymnastics Australia has announced an independent review into its “culture and practices” following abuse allegations from a number of high-profile gymnasts.
In a statement on Thursday, chief executive Kitty Chiller said the culture of gymnastics in Australia needs to change if the sport is to be “trusted, respected and celebrated”.
The statement added: “Many of those experiences are quite simply not acceptable.”
Ms Chiller said the organisation was committed to doing more as she flagged the independent review, which will be conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) at the request of Gymnastics Australia.
To ensure our sport can be trusted, respected and celebrated, Gymnastics Australia has requested and the Australian Human Rights Commission has agreed to undertake an independent review of our sports culture and practices.
— Gymnastics Australia (@GymAustralia) July 30, 2020
The statement explained: “The Commission’s independence ensures the integrity of the review and the commitment made by everyone at Gymnastics Australia, to genuinely listen and learn from our athletes and the gymnastics community.
“It also provides confidence to those who have more to contribute or who have not yet spoken, that their experiences will be heard by an independent team of professionals to inform future practice.
“The review will build an understanding of the culture of gymnastics in Australia and any barriers there may be in reporting behaviours that go against what we stand for – zero tolerance of any form of abuse.”
The review is expected to be completed in early 2021. Its findings will be published by the AHRC.
‘I am scared to share my story, but someone has to stand up for athletes’
In recent weeks, a number of prominent gymnasts have spoken out about their experiences in the sport.
On July 15, Commonwealth Games silver medallist and three-time world champion Mary-Anne Monckton took to Facebook to explain why she had been “quiet on social media”.
She said her “mind had been racing” since watching Athlete A, a documentary that followed a team of journalists as they broke the story of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassars’ molesting of young female gymnasts in the US.
“I am scared to share my story, but at some point, someone has to stand up for the athletes.”
“It brought up a lot of old memories, painful ones that I had pushed down so deep … The abuse (physical, mental and emotional) needs to stop, or at least be stamped out of our sport,” Monckton wrote.
“I, like so many others, have experienced body shaming, have had food withheld, been yelled at until I cried (even as an adult athlete, which is downright embarrassing), and been manipulated and ‘forced’ to do things that I was not physically ready for or capable of doing, which ultimately led to career-ending injuries.”
She was followed by Australian junior championship winner and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Chloe Gilliland, who shared a post on Facebook on July 18 that revealed she was “anxious, stressed and depressed” at her “supposed peak”.
In the post, Gilliland alleged she had been told she was “fat” and a “danger to my own body” by coaches.
“If they weren’t making comments about being ‘heavy for the day’, the next thing they would revert to saying was that I was just stupid,” she wrote.
“At 17 despite receiving sports psychology and dietitian advice, I felt it was easier to end my own life, than to give in to what they wanted me to be.”
The posts prompted several other Australian gymnasts to share similar experiences online.
The Australian Human Rights Commission will conduct an independent cultural review of the sport of gymnastics in Australia.https://t.co/aqTMAyfXkh
— Australian Human Rights Commission (@AusHumanRights) July 30, 2020
This is what the independent review will involve
The AHRC will facilitate a series of listening groups, conduct interviews with key stakeholders and seek written submissions as part of the review.
It will also consider current policies and practices relating to the safety and wellbeing of athletes, as well as the implementation and governance structures around the policies in question.
The process is open to athletes, parents, coaches, staff, volunteers and administrators.
Gymnastics Australia said the AHRC would soon embark on establishing the review and would advise on how to engage with the process in coming weeks.
In the meantime, Gymnastics Australia said it would “continue to implement key initiatives” informed by feedback received from athletes in the past week, and any feedback it receives in future.
A foundation course advisory group comprising four athletes was due to meet this week to develop “athlete first” and “athlete-coach” education frameworks that will be mandatory training for all coaches and judges from next year.
And Gymnastics Australia said it would continue to offer mental health support to any athletes in need throughout the review process.