Article by ITV News Producer Lucy Towers
More than 120 calls have been made to the helpline set-up to listen to current and ex-gymnasts who recount their experiences in the sport, as allegations of abuse within British Gymnastics continue.
The confidential helpline, run by the NPSCC and British Athletes Commission (BAC), was launched five weeks ago to encourage people to come forward and tell their story.
ITV News has spoken to several gymnasts who have called the helpline; in some cases their stories have been deemed so serious they’ve been passed on to the relevant local authorities.
Below is the experience of one former gymnast, whose elite-level trainer is still coaching today.
“Phoning the helpline was the scariest thing I’ve done in probably the last eight years.
"I was scared and it took huge amounts of courage to open old wounds to strangers but they were so kind and continued to reinforce that I had done the right thing.
"As a gymnast who retired around eight years ago, I had my reservations about speaking about my experiences because I thought they were so ancient nobody would care.
"I was wrong. The NSPCC helpline really did a phenomenal job at reassuring me while I struggled even to find the words.
"I came across a tweet with the helpline number and I rang because the alternative of doing nothing and watching my old coach abuse other young kids was eating away at me from the inside out.
"I spoke to a couple of different people on the helpline, both were so reassuring and kept reminding me I had done the right thing and explained that anything I said was confidential and my name wouldn’t be given to my coaches which was my greatest concern.
"After telling just a few of my experiences they informed me that my concerns were going to be passed on to the local authorities where they would be looked into and if there were multiple or serious enough issues raised then they would approach the coaches and address the issues.
"Both the people I spoke to were so kind and listened to me while I babbled because I was so anxious and made me feel like I had done something great just by picking up the phone, they even told me that what I had gone through was really sad to hear and I should know it wasn’t OK.
"They gave me a reference number so I could ring at any time and see if there were any updates and discuss anything I felt necessary.
"I would urge anyone who has seen or experienced anything that they are concerned about, no matter how old, it’s completely secure and they really do care even if you think they won’t.
"Your voice matters, because together we will achieve a real difference.”
The helpline can be contacted on 0800 056 0566 and is open during the week from 8am to 8pm and at the weekend from 9am to 6pm.
Louise Exton, NSPCC Helpline Service Head, said: “We’ve heard claims about gymnasts being physically punished or emotionally abused by being relentlessly called lazy or inadequate, or being forced to remain at an unhealthy weight.
“This is unacceptable and we encourage anyone with similar concerns to contact our joint helpline with the BAC to report abuse, seek advice or make a statement into the Whyte Review that was launched this week.”
The Independent Whyte Review remains open to submissions from past and present gymnasts, until September 25.
The review will look at whether:
Gymnasts’ wellbeing and welfare is (and has been) at the centre of the culture of British Gymnastics, its registered clubs and member coaches and if not, why not.
Safeguarding concerns and complaints have been dealt with appropriately in the sport of gymnastics and if not, why not.
Gymnasts, or their parents, carers or guardians, have felt unable to raise complaints with appropriate authorities and if so, why.
Sally Munday, CEO of UK Sport, said: “The appointment of Anne Whyte QC to lead this Review, together with the publication of the Terms of Reference is a significant milestone in addressing the serious issues which have emerged from gymnastics in recent months.“UK Sport will now wait for the Review to be conducted and we’d encourage anyone who has information relevant to the Terms of Reference to contact the Review.“Once we receive the final report, we’ll be working with our colleagues at Sport England and with British Gymnastics to ensure the necessary recommendations and reforms are implemented in order to protect participants at all levels of the sport moving forward.”