'We are sorry': Fresh fallout in ugly WA gymnastics controversy

·4-min read
Western Australia's Institute of Sport has apologised after an independent investigation concluded that many former gymnasts suffered abuse. Pic: Getty
Western Australia's Institute of Sport has apologised after an independent investigation concluded that many former gymnasts suffered abuse. Pic: Getty

Western Australia's Institute of Sport (WAIS) has apologised after an independent investigation corroborated reports of abuse against some of the state's elite gymnasts.

Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) found it was "reasonably likely that some gymnasts suffered abuse and/or harm" at the WAIS after handing down its findings around allegations that covered a period between 1987 and 2016.

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The SIA report cited that gymnasts were subjected to verbal and physical abuse, fat-shaming and unnecessary skinfold testing.

Some gymnasts were expected to train and compete while injured and others experienced extreme training loads.

"The courage exhibited by these gymnasts in telling their stories will result in meaningful change," SIA's chief executive David Sharpe said on Wednesday.

The SIA investigation found the program had no effective complaints process.

"One of the main reasons these behaviours were able to occur was because there were no adequate independent oversight mechanisms ... or an avenue for complaints in place," Sharpe said.

The SIA report found that it was
The SIA report found that it was "reasonably likely that some gymnasts suffered abuse and/or harm" at the WAIS. Pic: AAP

The WAIS accepted four recommendations, including a "restorative" process with affected gymnasts, WAIS chairman Neil McLean said.

"To the women who reported such distressing experiences, we have listened to you," McLean said.

"To those who experienced abuse and harm, we apologise.

"We are sorry that your experiences were painful rather than enjoyable and we apologise for the elements of the WAIS program that failed you."

One former gymnast who took part in the investigation said she developed arthritis in her late 20s and was told by her doctor that she would require a double hip replacement due to the nature of her sporting career.

She said it led to a long-standing addiction to pain-killing medication.

"He (the doctor) said all my old stretching positions are probably how it started," the woman told the review.

"Gymnastics led me to a 15-year addiction to opiates (to manage the pain)."

SIA said many gymnasts said they felt "completely discarded the moment they walked away from the program, and there was no post-retirement support."

"Some of the girls that had terrible injuries, hip replacements and things like that, and apparently not even a phone call to see how they are," one woman said.

Parents discouraged from contact with gymnasts

The report also exposed the extent to which parents were cut off from their children, with gymnasts travelling separately and staying in different accommodation to their families for away events.

Parents were also discouraged from attending training sessions or visiting their child at team accommodation unless "upon request by a team official or during an organised visit".

Such strict practices were put in place so as to stop parents offering their children contradictory advice to that of their coaches.

"It is difficult to reconcile the 'where were the parents' question with the policies of 'no watching at the gym' and 'no travelling with gymnasts to competitions'", the report said.

"The policies created an environment that isolated the gymnasts from their parents and did not offer parents the transparency they ought to have had."

The SIA investigation also found WAIS policies governing the gymnastics program failed to "adequately protect some of the gymnasts".

About 800 athletes, including nine Olympians, went through the WAIS gym program which was ceased for financial reasons in 2016.

"It is vital for everyone involved in our elite sporting community, including the gymnasts who raised these allegations, to know that we accept the report's recommendations," McLean said.

"Prior to the report being commissioned, WAIS already developed and implemented policies that go some way to addressing the areas for improvement."

In May last year, Gymnastics Australia apologised after a "confronting" Australian Human Rights Commission report found cases of abuse and systemic cultural problems in the sport.

with AAP

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