Girl, 8, describes bullying by gymnastics coaches as review is pledged

ITV News has uncovered further allegations of bullying, and physical and emotional abuse within gymnastics.

Following a report on the lasting impacts athletes have endured from their experiences - including being "beaten and starved" during training - more gymnasts have come forward to share their experiences in the sport.

Including an eight-year-old girl who says she has already experienced abuse in the sport she loves.

At just seven-years-old, Paige Southern-Reason says she was tied to a horizontal bar and left hanging there - her pain and cries ignored.

The young gymnast said she was pushed "harder and harder" despite being in tears during training.

The alleged abuse took place at the Heathrow Gymnastics Club where, Paige says, coaches would shout in her face in front of a gym full of people.

  • Kerry Southern says it was 'devastating' to hear what her daughter had been through:

On its website Heathrow Gymnastics claims to be accredited by the British Olympic Association (BOA).

It is not and the BOA has asked the club to remove the misinformation.

A Welsh Champion, Paige fears speaking out will damage her future career.

Paige told ITV News she was tied to a bar, like this one, and left hanging despite her tears. Credit: ITV News

She has good reason for her fears, staff at the club warned her if she told her parents then she'd be punished further.

But the young gymnast is determined to help other children who might have similar experiences in the sport and so has bravely shared her story.

Paige's experience is not an isolated case.

Heathrow Gymnastics Club, the focus of two abuse allegations. Credit: ITV News

Former elite British gymnast, Margaux Derakhshan, is one of many athletes ITV News has spoken to who say they too have experienced - or been witness to - abuse at the Heathrow Club.

Now 19, she trained at the Heathrow Gymnastics Club for five years from when she was five-years-old.

Ms Derakhshan told ITV News "the most common" abuse she witnessed was "girls being insulted - being called fat, ugly, stupid."

  • Margaux Derakshan tells ITV News what she witnessed:

"One was called an idiot," she said.

"Other things, more serious was physical abuse.

"One girl was pushed to the floor and dragged by her hair out of the gym just because she couldn’t get the choreography right."

Weight as a means of bullying is something athletes have told ITV News exists in the sport as a whole - beyond the one club.

  • Olympic gymnast Francesca Fox: 'I was told constantly that I was fat':

Francesca Fox, one of Team GB's rhythmic gymnasts at the London 2012 Olympics says she is still damaged by a career dominated by body-shaming.

"I already got told I was fat, at aged 10," she told ITV News.

Something that went on "daily" she says, until she retired from the sport 10 years later.

  • Francesca Fox says it has left her with lasting problems:

Following ITV News' reports into allegations of abuse in the sport, British Gymnastics has announced an independent review into what it called "concerns raised by a number of British gymnasts about mistreatment".

Making the announcement, Jane Allen, CEO of British Gymnastics, said: "The behaviours we have heard about in recent days are completely contrary to our standards of safe coaching and have no place in our sport."

She added: "The British Gymnastics Integrity Unit is set up to investigate all allegations when reported or identified by our national network of club and regional Welfare Officers."

But conceded: "However, it is clear that gymnasts did not feel they could raise their concerns to British Gymnastics and it is vital that an Independent Review helps us better understand why so we can remove any barriers as quickly as possible."

Ms Allen said: "There is nothing more important for British Gymnastics than the welfare of our gymnasts at every level of our sport".

  • ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott on the reaction to the pledge of a review:

A spokesperson for the British Olympic Association told ITV News they were "alarmed" by the allegations ITV News has reported.

The statement continued: "No athlete should suffer abuse in pursuit of their sporting ambitions.

"Whilst the BOA is not responsible for the training of athletes, we clearly have an interest in their safety and wellbeing, and believe all such allegations deserve to be fully investigated for the benefit of the athletes involved and to reassure the wider sporting community."