Coach claims her gymnasts are punished because she spoke out over abuse

Lamara Robb said she believed her students were being punished after she spoke out about abuse. Credit: ITV News/ Eduardo Cano Photo Co./ Unsplash

An elite gymnast who revealed her abuse in British Gymnastics claims that the children she now coaches are being punished after she spoke out. Lamara Robb says she "burst into tears" when she thought her students were being unfairly treated because they were coached by her. Given the nature of the sport this is incredibly hard to prove that is actually the case, but it is perhaps instructive that this perception exists. Anne Whyte QC wrote the word "culture" 277 times in her damning review of British Gymnastics that was released on Thursday.

It is probably the most difficult thing to change and after apologising to gymnasts on Thursday, the words of the sport’s CEO Sarah Powell need to filter through to all levels.

Robb’s own account of abuse was revealed in an interview with ITV News in 2020 and is something the Whyte Review found was not uncommon among the sport’s systemic failings. She remains glad that she went public with her experience even though it has since put her in difficult situations as a coach. "I’ll be honest with you I walked out crying," she said of one recent competition. "Yes, I get that sometimes you don’t get medals but what was upsetting was I felt like I was the problem and that’s not fair.

"That’s not fair on my gymnasts, don’t put my experience on to them and their ability and their performance.

"It makes you feel very uncomfortable, it makes it feel like people are talking about you behind your back."

'What was upsetting was I felt like I was the problem and that is not fair,' Robb said

She added: "I feel that sometimes they’re not treated as fairly and that could be reflected in the scores, it could be reflected in the way other coaches react to me.

"Some are quite positive but some just sort of go ‘urgh, that’s Lamara, that’s the one who spoke out about this club’. "We’ve not been protected at all and in turn if you are coaching like myself and running a charity gymnastics club with my mother and our other coach, it gets a bit disheartening." Some gymnasts had such a bad experience that they turned their back on the sport completely.

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Catherine Lyons was one of the country’s most talented young athletes but her account of abuse in an interview with ITV News would have a bigger impact on the sport than any medal. It helped inspire dozens of gymnasts such as Robb to also share their stories and eventually led to the Whyte Review. Lyons said: "I didn’t realise the extent of mental, emotional, physical abuse that there was in gymnastics and in the UK and worldwide.

"Me speaking out was to raise some awareness but I didn’t realise how much awareness was really going to be raised by not just me but other people in the whole of the UK."

That power of numbers has forced British Gymnastics to make drastic changes.

Catherine Lyons said she was initially unaware of the scale of the abuse present within gymnastics

Olympian Becky Downie tweeted on Thursday: "A very important day for the future of our sport and one I know will mean so much to everyone who was brave enough to speak up & report to the Whyte Review.

"A lot still needs to be worked on but I can confidently say some very big changes have already been implemented...”

"Knowing I wasn’t the only one that had experienced this also gave me, in a weird way, a lot of peace and comfort that we could all come together and form this gymnastics alliance and come together and support each-other.

"I think really that was the main thing and that’s what got me through it and I think a lot of other people through it."

'The gymnastics alliance was key as a forum where people could support one another'

Those changes are now tied to the sport’s funding.

If it fails to implement the 17 recommendations in the Whyte Review UK Sport and Sport England will take away their cash.

Some might think it is lucky to have this second chance and those in the sport who still deny that change is needed would do well to think about that.