'Change will not happen overnight': British Gymnastics grapples with aftermath of Whyte Review

Credit: AP

British Gymnastics (BG) has revealed that of the more than 200 cases that emerged from the review into the sport’s abusive culture, only 74 have been completed.

The cases were serious enough to warrant further investigation through an independent complaints process; but BG is unwilling to confirm how many coaches have been sanctioned as a result.

Giving an update on ‘Reform 25’ – the governing body’s blueprint to make the sport a safer place - all they will say is the outcome of any case can lead to everything from "no action required", to sanctions up to and including a lifetime ban. Separately, BG itself has received more than 1,300 "concerns" since gymnasts first started speaking out about their treatment almost three years ago. It says just over half of those have been resolved.

That headline figure represents an average of more than 400 complaints a year since 2020; before that BG would deal with a maximum of 250.

CEO Sarah Powell, who was brought in to change the culture in the sport, says instinctively she does not like quoting figures but points to the progress gymnastics has made in a relatively short space of time.

“While the early progress we are making is encouraging and the conversations we have had with many members of the gymnastics community on our visits to clubs and competitions have been constructive and supportive, Reform ’25 is a two-year programme of action, and meaningful change will not happen overnight.

"Our commitment to ensuring we do everything in our power to change gymnastics for the better remains steadfast.

“There's going to be some people that are still potentially hanging on to the past, but the majority are moving in the right direction and they all want the same outcome, and the vision has gone down really well.”

Powell revealed that BG is now spending more than £1 million per year dealing with welfare and safeguarding as a result of the abuse scandal. That compares with the £250,000 it set aside for the same issues in the mid-2010s. BG is dipping into its substantial reserves to foot the welfare bill.

'Meaningful change will not happen overnight,' Sarah Powell said Credit: ITV News

BG has agreed to publish a register of banned or expelled coaches, going back 10 years or so. This is a shift from their original plans which ruled out highlighting any historical sanctions.

BG bosses have also said they won’t hesitate to strip anyone of honorary membership if they’re found guilty of abuse as a result of the continuing investigations.

Controversially though, what the sport’s leaders won’t be doing is publicly naming suspended coaches, or anyone under investigation. Their argument is that suspension is a ‘neutral act’ and therefore to name someone, demonises them.

Powell says this does not put gymnasts at risk: “Our aim is not about the banning of coaches. Coaches are really important to us. If there is any risk, a coach will be suspended, we will determine that straight away when a complaint comes in.”

But others involved in the sport, parents especially, feel that they should be alerted if a coach is being investigated. They believe that only when they are fully informed can they assess whether they trust the coach to train their children.

BG has admitted that it has still only settled one of dozens of civil cases it faces, mainly from former gymnasts who are claiming compensation for their treatment in the sport and the long-term problems they’ve been left with.

This they put down to the complex and serious nature of the cases which require detailed research and evidence gathering; but the governing body accepts the length of time they are taking is not good for anyone involved.

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