Under-fire British Gymnastics CEO breaks silence after ITV News reveals abuse scandal

 Jane Allen British Gymnastics

British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen has finally broken her silence to say she was "appalled and ashamed" that the sport had "fallen short" in protecting those under its care in the midst of an abuse scandal.

Her comments come after a series of gymnasts revealed to ITV News their "traumatic" experiences at the hands of their coaches from a young age.

British Gymnastics has pledged an independent review, but there are now calls for change at the top of the organisation.

Ms Allen offered no comment when recently approached directly by ITV News in the wake of the shocking testimonies.

An increasing number of gymnasts, including athlete Catherine Lyons and world championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie, have come forward to reveal a toxic culture within the sport.

Ms Allen offered no comment when recently approached directly by ITV News in the wake of the shocking testimonies.

The alarming accusations stem from the mistreatment of young children, with one eight-year-old gymnast describing how she was tied to bars and bullied by her coaches at the age of just seven.

Rio 2016 bronze medallist Amy Tinkler revealed last month to ITV News that her decision to retire from the sport had been partly instigated by British Gymnastics’ failure to sufficiently deal with a complaint she lodged more than eight months ago.

Catherine Lyons tells ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott she was 'whacked with a stick by my coach mid hand-stand which left a long line up my leg'

World Championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie described "an environment of fear and mental abuse" in the sport - the latest high-profile gymnasts to speak out.

In a statement, the sisters, generally regarded as Team GB's best female gymnastics medal prospects at the Tokyo Olympics, described how "abusive behaviour was so ingrained in our daily lives, that it became completely normalised."

Reflecting on their early experiences in the sport, they said: "We certainly didn’t realise how wrong it was at the time. It’s taken years and years to understand and come to terms with it.

"For too long, the health and well-being of young girls has been of secondary importance to a dated, cruel, and – we’d argue – often ineffective culture within women’s gymnastics training."

Paige tells ITV News: 'Every time we cried they would just push us harder and harder'

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.

British Gymnastics CEO Jane Allen made no comment when approached directly by ITV News.

Ms Allen has backed calls for the appointment of a sports ombudsman – a move recommended by Paralympic champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson three years ago – after acknowledging that it cannot police itself following a tide of allegations that gymnasts had been bullied, beaten and starved.

British Gymnastics CEO Jane Allen refuses to speak outside home to ITV News in July:

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ms Allen, who has faced calls to resign as a result of the crisis, said: "This is not just an issue for gymnastics.

"Baroness Grey-Thompson was right when she said in 2017 that sport should not police itself. It is in no one’s interests and sport needs help."

"We have tried to do our best to protect our members and while we have succeeded in many cases, in others we have fallen short."

She added: "Athletes and coaches will often feel aggrieved if the process does not find in their interests and worry the system is against them.

"We must find new ways to explain why decisions have been made.

"We back Baroness Grey-Thompson’s call for the creation of a sports ombudsman."

Nile Wilson made history at Rio with a bronze medal Credit: PA

Allen’s comments come after Amy Tinkler revealed her retirement from gymnastics had been the result of her “experiences as a club and elite gymnast” and the alleged failure of the authorities to act upon her complaint subsequently, while fellow Olympic medallist Nile Wilson said participants were treated like "pieces of meat".

The British Gymnastics chief wrote: "If bad things happen in any sport, a light must be shone upon them. Those that speak out about mistreatment in gymnastics must be heard. And change must follow."

"When stories of mistreatment in gymnastics first appeared in the media five weeks ago, I was appalled and ashamed."