Gymnastics Australia review: Sexual, physical abuse revealed in damning report

A review into Australian gymnastics has revealed a toxic culture that led to sexual and physical abuse of athletes. Picture: Shutterstock
A review into Australian gymnastics has revealed a toxic culture that led to sexual and physical abuse of athletes. Picture: Shutterstock

A landmark report into gymnastics in Australia found the sport fostered a toxic and win-at-all-costs culture that allowed for sexual, physical and emotional abuse of its athletes to be carried out.

The review undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission found practices in the sport contributed to a "high-risk environment for abuse".

"The commission ... heard about a range of experiences of abuse and other harmful behaviours, including emotional and verbal abuse, physical abuse and medical negligence, sexual abuse, negative weight management practices and body shaming," the report said.

"The short and long-term impacts of these practices were reported to be profound, with recent former gymnasts and gymnasts who last trained in the 80s, 90s and 2000s sharing their experiences."

The commission made 12 recommendations, which the sport's governing body Gymnastics Australia said would all be implemented.

The recommendations included a formal apology to all members of Australia's gymnastic community, child abuse and sexual harassment to be investigated externally of the sport and to develop training and support programs for athletes to help prevent and address eating disorders.

The review found the 'win-at-all-costs' approach of the sport had led to unacceptable risks for gymnasts. Among them were body-shaming and harmful weight management practices, which often continued long after an athlete had left the sport.

"There is an insufficient focus on understanding and preventing the full range of behaviours that can constitute child abuse and neglect in gymnastics," the report said.

"The review identified a number of key cultural risk factors that cut across experiences of gymnastics in Australia and create an environment where abuse and mistreatment thrive."

The commission carried out 47 interviews with 57 participants, which included former and current athletes, staff and coaches, as well as receiving a further 138 written submissions.

In a statement, Gymnastics Australia said it unreservedly apologised to athletes and family members that had experienced abuse while taking part in the sport.

"The report is confronting, identifying systemic issues that affect athlete experience and wellbeing at all levels of the sport," the governing body said.

"The report also references experiences from members of the gymnastics community of abuse that are deeply concerning.

"While important work has been undertaken in recent years to improve policies, education and support mechanisms for our athletes and coaches across child safety and athlete wellbeing, there is clearly more to be done."

It's estimated of the 321,000 people that take part in gymnastics, 77 per cent of those are female, with 91 per cent being under the age of 12.

The commission heard about large amounts of pressure placed on young gymnasts to perform at their peak in their mid-teens.

"Although there has been an observable shift over recent years and Olympic cycles, it is still widely accepted within the gymnastics community that a female gymnast reaches their peak in pre-pubescent years," the report said.

Gymnastics Australia's board is set to make a formal response to the report.

The sporting body's integrity committee will provided oversight of how the recommendations outlined in the report will be implemented.

The review was commissioned by Gymnastics Australia in August 2020 following the release of the documentary Athlete A.

The documentary centred on the decades of sexual abuse carried out by former US Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

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This story Abuse of Australian gymnasts revealed in landmark review first appeared on The Canberra Times.