A Letter Before Action claims abuse was perpetrated by coaches and others employed by British Gymnastics at various UK clubs; Gymnasts involved say changing the culture of the sport is their primary motivation
By Martha Kelner, sports correspondent
Last Updated: 26/02/21 12:30pm
Seventeen former gymnasts, including three Olympians, are taking legal action against British Gymnastics over what they say was systemic physical and psychological abuse in the sport.
The women, now aged between 15 and 43, are seeking compensation for what they claim is ongoing physical and psychological suffering as a result of the alleged abuse – including depression, musculoskeletal conditions and PTSD.
The gymnasts involved said changing the culture of the sport is their primary motivation.
A Letter Before Action, which arrived with British Gymnastics on Thursday afternoon, claimed abuse was perpetrated by coaches and others employed by the sports governing body at various clubs across the UK.
The women, who were between the ages of six and 23 when the alleged abuse took place, claimed that practices included inappropriate use of physical force by coaches against gymnasts, a “cavalier” attitude to injury, and excessive control over diet and fluid intake.
Last summer, British gymnasts followed their American counterparts in speaking about physical and emotional abuse in the sport.
Gabbie Cook, 28, is one of the gymnasts involved in the group claim and is still scarred by what she says were years of psychological abuse and physical intimidation by a coach.
She said: “I’m still in a process of healing from it.
“I’ve dealt with PTSD and the long-term effects of PTSD and am currently in counselling for it.
“I want British Gymnastics to feel this, to actually feel the widespread abuse they have allowed due to their inaction and ignorance.
“I want them to feel it and I want them to seriously reconsider their policies and with those policies I want them to have an effective practical action plan on how to truly safeguard athletes who are children.”
Claire Heafford revealed to Sky News last year that she was considering taking legal action after suffering alleged physical and emotional abuse while training as an elite athlete in the 1990s.
She is now an athlete advocate and founder of the advocacy group Gymnasts For Change, and is spearheading the group claim.
“This is a landmark moment in our campaign for justice,” she said.
“This is not and has never been about a few bad apples, this is about decades of systemic abuse, encouraged and covered up by those at the top.
“The hopes and dreams of countless children and young adults of competing as professional gymnasts have been destroyed and their love for the sport is now shrouded in fear and suffering.”
An NSPCC hotline set up after the first allegations of abuse last summer has so far received 220 calls, half of which were deemed so serious they were referred to police or social services.
This is the first legal letter related to these abuse allegations to land on British Gymnastics’ doorstep, but it may not be the only one.
In a statement, British Gymnastics said: “We took receipt of the Letter Before Action yesterday afternoon. It would not be appropriate or fair to all parties for us to make any comment until we have had the opportunity for it to be fully considered.”
A wide-reaching independent review, led by Anne Whyte QC and co-commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England to look into the allegations of mistreatment in gymnastics, is also expected to report back later this year.
Source : Sky Sports