Words by NSPCC CEO, Peter Wanless and British Athletes Commission CEO, Mahdi Choudhury
In the last few weeks, gymnasts have bravely come forward about their experiences of abuse and bullying within their sport.
It is no easy task but everyone who speaks out is helping to positively transform the culture of the sport for tomorrow’s gymnasts.
A number of high profile elite gymnasts revealed that they have suffered varying degrees of bullying, mistreatment and abuse but we know these experiences are not unique to professionals.
Some said they were hit or made to train on injuries while others have claimed they were verbally abused or constantly told they were overweight to the point that they struggled with eating disorders.
This is a sport played and enjoyed by millions and, while not everyone shares these experiences, we know there are many who hear these sobering claims and realise the same happened or is happening to themselves, their children or young people they know.
Gymnastics brings joy to young people up and down the country and, like all sport, plays a huge part in enriching childhoods, so ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all involved in the past, present and future must be paramount.
That is why we, the British Athletes Commission (BAC) and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), jointly set up a free, confidential and independent helpline that is a safe space for you voice any concerns.
The last time the NSPCC set up a dedicated helpline was in response to the FA abuse scandal which led to many referrals being made to police with information about clubs, victims and suspects across the country.
We want to hear from gymnasts, parents or anyone involved in the sport at any level.
As a parent or other adult, you may have noticed a young gymnast is increasingly withdrawn and anxious, has experienced dramatic weight loss or has unexplained bruises.
But signs of abuse and bullying could also be much subtler, so we urge anyone who feels something might not be quite right to get in touch with the helpline.
Our trained and approachable counsellors are there to lift the weight off your shoulders. No concern is too small and they will listen to you without judgement and use their expertise to give advice, answer any questions and, if necessary, refer to a relevant agency such as the police.
All callers coming through will be offered the opportunity, where appropriate, for their details to be shared with the BAC who can offer a follow up call to discuss any specialist support or advice you may need.
This is all part of the BAC’s newly-established Athlete Support Unit, which will provide end-to-end support to athletes and families affected by the allegations of abuse.
By calling the helpline, you will also be offered a chance to input to the Independent Inquiry commissioned by Sport England and UK Sport.
As the lockdown lifts, people will be returning to sports and should be able to enjoy them safe from harm.
We want you to know that every call to the helpline is important. By picking up the phone you are playing your part in positively transforming the culture of the sport for tomorrow’s gymnasts. You are making gymnastics a safer, more welcoming place for all.
If you wish to receive support or report concerns of bullying or abuse in the sport, please call 0800 056 0566 from 8am to 10pm weekdays or 9am to 6pm weekends. Alternatively, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.