Following a decision by Anne Whyte QC to extend the call for evidence period by two weeks, a revised deadline of Friday 9 October 2020 was imposed for those wishing to submit evidence to the British Gymnastics review into allegations of mistreatment within the sport.

Introduction

Since the start of the year, ITV News, led by their investigative sports journalist Steve Scott, has spoken with numerous former gymnasts about the physical, emotional and mental abuse that they have allegedly suffered at the hands of their coaches. These worrying allegations, on the back of the shocking exposure of the sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics, have already heard gymnasts talk of developing serious eating disorders, habitual self-harm and the need for regular counselling.

In July 2020, British Gymnastics announced an independent inquiry into the “shocking and upsetting” allegations made by multiple elite athletes. But a month later, on 25 August 2020, UK Sport and Sport England stepped in and formally announced that Anne Whyte QC would be appointed to undertake a thorough and impartial review (“the Whyte Review”) into the series of serious allegations about the treatment of gymnasts at all levels of the sport.[1] As part of the announcement, UK Sport provided the Terms of Reference for the review, which may be found on The Whyte Review website.

A call for evidence was issued on 25 August 2020, stating the following:

“The Whyte Review invites evidence and views from individuals and organisations who hold information relevant to its Terms of Reference. We would like to hear from individual gymnasts, parents, carers or guardians of gymnasts, gymnastics coaches, British Gymnastics staff or former staff and any other individuals who wish to provide information.”

Allegations made in the press

Steve Scott first reported on this matter in November 2017.[2] Since then, there has been a wave of allegations made by all levels of gymnasts against coaches and staff. Below are some of the allegations:

  • Catherine Lyons (former British artistic gymnast) alleged that she was bullied by her coach, made to train even when injured, struck with a stick, and also locked in a cupboard.[3]
  • Paige Southern-Reason (an 8-year-old gymnast) alleged that coaches at Heathrow Gymnastics Club told children not to tell their parents what went on in the gym and if they did, they wound punish them.[4]
  • Georgia Pickles (former gymnast) alleged that she fractured her foot whilst doing a spin on a low beam and that the coaches said, “if your foot hurt that much then you can stop but the alternative is climbing the rope”.[5]
  • Lamara Robb (former gymnast) alleged that when she broke her foot in training, the coach at the time said “If you want to fake it, I’ll make you not fake it”, went and got a bucket of ice and forced her foot into this bucket of ice while she was screaming and asking him to stop.[6]

Most recently, Rio Olympic bronze medallist Amy Tinkler has triggered another investigation by British Gymnastics after she alleged a senior coach used the phrase “fat dwarf” in an email to her when she was seventeen.[7]

Apart from the individual allegation of verbal and physical abuse, there have been various reports regarding British Gymnastics’ internal complaints procedures which meant that athletes could not have their complaints assessed independently, fairly, transparently and without it severely impacting their careers.[8]

The Whyte Review

The Whyte Review was co-commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport to ensure an independent examination into the allegations made by numerous British athletes against coaches at British Gymnastics. In summary, the key points to take away from the Terms of Reference of the review are:

  • The Whyte Review team will be led by Anne Whyte QC of QEB Hollis Whiteman, Mike Cave Academy Manager at Fulham Football Club and Tonia Couch a former Olympic diver.[9]
  • The outcome will be to determine whether:
  1. Gymnasts’ wellbeing and welfare is the centre of the culture of British Gymnastics and if not, why not;
    1. Safeguarding concerns and complaints have been dealt with appropriately in the sport of gymnastics and if not, why not; and
    1. Gymnasts, or their parents, carers or guardians, have felt unable to raise complaints with appropriate authorities and if so, why.
  • The reviewer will make recommendations on any failings identified.[10]
  • The relevant period concerns events which occurred between August 2008 to August 2020.[11] It must be noted that the Review will have discretion to consider information from outside the relevant period where they consider it necessary and proportionate to do so in order to achieve the Outcomes of the Review.[12]
  • Nature of the allegations – the inquiry will look into (but is not limited to) allegations of mistreatment, sexual, mental (emotional and neglect) and physical abuse, bullying, harassment and discrimination; the approach taken by British Gymnastics to resolving complaints; reasons for any delay in complaints being raised; and adoption and application by British Gymnastics of safeguarding and complaints procedures, including how compliance with safeguarding standards by clubs and member coaches was monitored and assessed.[13]
  • Anne Whyte QC will prepare an interim report for UK Sport and Sport England once they have investigated the allegations submitted via the call for evidence portal which will include a summary of the nature and scale of the information that has been received and a view on whether the Terms of Reference cover the issues that have been raised or should be amended.
  • Referral to relevant statutory authorities will be considered regarding any information they consider to (i) be of a criminal nature; (ii) raise immediate safeguarding concerns; or (iii) be a potential violation of anti-doping regulations.[14]
  • Organisations and individuals with interest in the issue were invited to provide Information. Such individuals and entities included: current and former members of British Gymnastics, including parents, carers, and guardians of members; the Commissioning Organisations; the British Athletes Commission; the Child Protection in Sport Unit; British Gymnastics; the English Institute of Sport; the Department for Digital, culture, Media & Sport; United Kingdom Anti-Doping; and the Ann Craft Trust.[15]

At the end of the review, a formal written report will be produced to UK Sport and Sport English which, subject to relevant legal considerations, will make it publicly available.[16] The recommendations and findings made will be carefully considered by UK Sport and Sport England before determining how any suggestions should be implemented by British Gymnastics. [17]

British Gymnastics has made a statement about the Whyte Review, saying:[18]

“British Gymnastics will have no role to play in the running of the Review. We will, as you’d expect, be providing a submission on how sports organisations can be better supported in navigating the legal complexities and myriad of issues around complaints and subsequent cases. The QC has been clear that the review will take as long as it takes. I support that – a thorough process will ensure the findings help us change our sport for the better. In the meantime, I’d ask you not to prejudge the Review nor any complaints it will investigate – they should be heard in an independent and impartial manner that is fair to all involved parties.”

Legal action against British Gymnastics

The Whyte Review is an important step towards understanding the extent of the troubling relationship between gymnasts and their coaches, but whilst the review is expected to provide a way forward, a number of gymnasts are on the verge of launching group legal action against British Gymnastics.

It has been reported that over twenty gymnasts have put their names to a potential civil proceedings claim. What has been raised by the athletes is that they do not believe the Whyte Review is independent enough and that it can be obscured by anonymity.

Nick De Marco QC who is leading the action has said that too many inquiries fail to make any lasting difference.[19] De Marco QC was quoted as saying:

“We’ve seen so many reviews with good intentions in sport in the past when they’ve been scandals and in other areas of life. You look at the Hillsborough disaster, for example, that can take years and years to get anywhere and often fizzle out into nothing. And that’s why I say by bringing claims in their own names, the athletes, the gymnasts take control of the process. They don’t have to rely on somebody else to investigate, but they take control and that’s the difference with the claims we seek to bring.”[20]

Responding to the threat of legal action, British Gymnastics saying they did not neglect the allegations and instead when “concerns were raised by athletes about our commissioning of the investigation and to remove any doubt of its integrity or independence, we stepped aside and asked that UK Sport and Sport England co-commission it. That review is now looking at whether gymnast welfare has been at the centre of British Gymnastics’ culture.”[21]

See our website to learn more about Fulcrum Sport.


[1] https://www.uksport.gov.uk/news/2020/08/25/independent-review-into-gymnastics-begins

[2] https://www.itv.com/news/2017-11-22/new-crisis-for-british-gymnastics-as-it-faces-a-grass-roots-rebellion

[3] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-07-06/beaten-and-starved-stars-allege-abuse-at-heart-of-british-gymnastics

[4] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-07-07/girl-8-describes-bullying-by-gymnastics-coaches-as-review-is-pledged

[5]https://www.itv.com/news/2020-07-08/olympian-louis-smith-condemns-culture-of-fear-in-british-gymnastics-following-abuse-allegations

[6]https://www.itv.com/news/2020-07-11/i-was-screaming-and-begging-him-to-stop-former-gymnast-recalls-training-horror-which-ended-olympic-dream

[7] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-08-27/why-itv-news-has-told-the-story-of-abuse-allegations-in-british-gymnastics

[8] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-09-16/olympian-amy-tinkler-accuses-british-gymnastics-ceo-of-hanging-sport-out-to-dry

[9] https://www.whytereview.org/about-the-review-team

[10] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 4(a)

[11] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 5

[12] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 9

[13] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 5

[14] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 11

[15] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 13

[16] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 16

[17] https://www.whytereview.org/terms-of-reference  at para 19

[18] https://www.british-gymnastics.org/news-and-events/news/latest-news/9208-details-published-for-the-whyte-review

[19] https://www.blackstonechambers.com/news/claims-against-british-gymnastics/

[20] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-09-07/exclusive-four-olympians-among-former-gymnasts-in-talks-to-launch-legal-action-against-british-gymnastics

[21] https://www.itv.com/news/2020-09-07/exclusive-four-olympians-among-former-gymnasts-in-talks-to-launch-legal-action-against-british-gymnastics


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