British Gymnastics is facing an unprecedented class action lawsuit from 17 former gymnasts alleging that coaches have committed widespread physical and psychological abuse among children aged six and over as part of a “win at all costs” mentality in sport.
On Wednesday, the sports federation received a letter ahead of the action alleging claims of young gymnasts – three of whom were for Team GB – as “an act of humiliation” if they did not appear, hit, kicked, hit or in the ears by coaches is moving correctly.
The letter also claims that there was a “culture of bodyshaming” immortalized by British Gymnastics. Teenage gymnasts have had to “starve” themselves to reach target weights and receive “punishment conditioning” or wear a “heavy suit” if they failed to do so.
Some of the gymnasts also claim they needed to find ways to get contraband into their rooms because they were so hungry from a diet of 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day – roughly half that recommended by the NHS for teenage girls – with one reported hid it in the ceiling tiles or under her mattress.
“British Gymnastics implemented a suspended pre-puberty model that resulted in generations of girls with eating disorders, body image issues and deliberate physical development,” the letter adds. “Many of the applicants now suffer from eating disorders, body dysmorphisms and / or an unhealthy relationship with food.”
At the forefront of the action is Olympic gymnast Jennifer Pinches from London 2012, who said: “For too long we have seen British gymnastics prioritize podiums over people, which has caused countless damage in the lives of young people. It is a heartbreaking truth to be aware of the level of abuse we and so many others have been exposed to. This is just the beginning of the profound changes we are calling for and the justice we will fight for. “
Jennifer Pinches, who competed on the floor in London in 2012, said the culture at British Gymnastics “has caused immeasurable damage to the lives of young people”. Photo: Anthony Devlin / PA
The letter also alleged that there was an unconcerned attitude towards injury and complaints about pain – with pressure on young gymnasts to keep exercising and taking strong pain relievers during the injury to keep up with the training schedule they expected.
Another Olympian, Hannah Whelan, confirmed that she was one of the gymnasts involved. She said: “It is important that we recognize the shortcomings in British gymnastics and support those affected in order to make the necessary changes.”
Applicants also describe an atmosphere of bullying or fear in their training institutions, as well as verbal abuse, including reporting that they are “fat”, “junk”, “stupid little girl”, “an embarrassment” and other derogatory terms.
The 17 gymnasts are all women who were between six and 23 years old at the time of the alleged abuse. Applicants said they could not complain about their treatment as many UK gymnastics trainers and staff had close personal relationships. In addition, the gymnasts feared effects, since many coaches also acted as judges in competitions.
Earlier this month it was revealed that 221 calls for abuse in UK gymnastics had been made to a dedicated hotline set up by the NSPCC – more than half were deemed serious enough to have resulted in a referral to police or social services.
A UK gymnastics review, led by Anne Whyte QC, is also investigating allegations of abuse that have been reported by numerous top athletes since last summer.
In December, Jane Allen, British Gymnastics CEO for nearly a decade, stepped down. The women’s head coach, Amanda Reddin, has also been investigated on multiple allegations of her behavior.
Subscribe to The Recap, our weekly email with editor recommendations.
These include allegations made by gymnast Ruby Harrold who accused Reddin of leading a “culture of fear” in Lilleshall and described portions of food that made her and her fellow gymnasts hungry. Reddin has denied any wrongdoing.
In response, British Gymnastics said: “We received the Letter Before Action on Wednesday afternoon. It would not be appropriate or fair for all parties to comment until we have had the opportunity to review it in full. “