• Cheek

Inquiry into gymnastics Australia says sport enabled physical, emotional and sexual abuse

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

An independent review into gymnastics in Australia by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says the sport has enabled a culture of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

The AHRC made 12 key recommendations around five key findings, most of which detailed negative experiences by young gymnasts which were prominently at the elite and professional level.

The report found that gymnastics has created an environment where abuse and mistreatment can thrive.

The twelve recommendations are:

  • Recommendation 1: Transform education to skills development for coaches

  • Recommendation 2: Strengthen coach engagement and accountability

  • Recommendation 3: Develop a national social media policy

  • Recommendation 4: Broaden the sport’s understanding of child abuse and neglect

  • Recommendation 5: Encourage and promote athlete empowerment and participation

  • Recommendation 6: 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

  • Recommendation 7: Develop a skills-based training and support program for all athletes to prevent and address eating disorders and disordered eating

  • Recommendation 8: Develop and refine resources relating to body image, weight management practices and eating disorders, to improve consistency and support effective implementation

  • Recommendation 9: All matters regarding child abuse and neglect, misconduct, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault be investigated externally of the sport

  • Recommendation 10: Establish interim and ongoing oversight over relevant complaints at all levels of the sport

  • Recommendation 11: Establish a toll-free triage, referral and reporting telephone service operated by SIA

  • Recommendation 12: Align current governance with Sport Australia’s Sport Governance Principles more consistently and effectively

The five key findings are:

  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 structures.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has stated, "The review found that there are significant cultural challenges within the sport of gymnastics in Australia, cutting across coaching practices, the health, safety and wellbeing of gymnasts, complaints and investigations, and governance...For all gymnasts, and particularly the girls and young women who make up the majority of gymnasts in Australia, I urge the sport to work swiftly and collaboratively to implement the recommendations included in this report and ensure child safety is considered a core responsibility at all levels."

The report did not investigate any particular allegations of abuse or misconduct.