'Complaints process likely to deter gymnastics whistleblowers speaking up'

British Gymnastics has introduced new safeguarding rules which will prevent coaches from weighing gymnasts, moving to stop methods it said are 'on the fringe of abuse'

The author of a report which found "systemic" abuse and a "coach-led culture of fear" in gymnastics says long delays in resolving hundreds of complaints threaten to deter future whistle-blowers.

Anne Whyte KC's comments come as British Gymnastics implemented new safeguarding measures, recommended by her, to ban gymnasts being weighed and under-12s missing school.

Speaking to ITV News before the new rules were announced, Ms Whyte said: "If it takes over three years to determine complaints, this is very likely to discourage those who wish to make complaints."

Despite hundreds of submissions to the review, and the complaints process set up alongside it, few coaches have been banned or expelled by British Gymnastics in the past three years.

British Gymnastics has implemented new safeguarding measures which prevent under-12s from missing school. Credit: ITV News

Some coaches accused of abuse and who remain under investigation are currently working.

Ms Whyte said that the whole process, designed to rebuild trust in the sport and the governing body, is actually in danger of having the opposite effect.

"If there are so few resolved cases or sanctions resulting from a dedicated complaints process since 2020, future complainants [or] the [gymnastics] community will have decreased or little confidence that British Gymnastics is capable of managing complaints of effectively identifying and remedying breaches of professional standards."

While Ms Whyte welcomed another recent British Gymnastics policy of publishing a register of "banned and expelled" coaches, she says it does not go far enough. She believes sanctioned coaches should be named too.

Her own review recommended that where complaints were upheld the outcome should be visible "to instill confidence in the process itself and the willingness to tackle poor practice or abusive conduct".

Anne Whyte KC spoke to ITV News only last week. Credit: ITV News

"If you have someone in an educational position over under sixteen-year-olds, of course there has got to be transparency over whether professional standards are maintained.

"If a solicitor or a doctor breaches professional standards and is subject to a sanction it is public information for obvious and good reason.

"If a sporting coach does that, it is not. I'd have thought that most people whose children engaged in sport would feel that it is information that should be publicly available."

British Gymnastics says the list is evolving, but there was no announcement today on its approach to sanctioned coaches, or the independent complaints process.

It did say the new safeguarding rules it has introduced were designed "to prevent inappropriate practices and associated risk of distress, mental health problems and eating disorders".

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Nikki O'Donnell is a former gymnast who trained under Stanley Wild - one of two former Olympians identified on the list.

Mr Wild was expelled by British Gymnastics in 2020, but has always denied all of the allegations against him.

Ms O'Donnell told ITV News she is angry that while her former coach is on the list, the reason for his inclusion is described by one vague word - "safeguarding". There are no other details.

"It's a pathetic piece of information that British Gymnastics have given, it's literally a name, a date, expelled and the most basic reason for getting rid of him," Ms O'Donnell said.

"I think by not putting everything on the list that they should have done, they're trying to show that it's not as bad as it seems, people are just wanting a bit of attention."

Like Ms Whyte KC, Ms O'Donnell believes sanctioned coaches should be on there too, saying: "It's a joke in a way that a coach who has had multiple complaints against them can go for training and because they've done that additional course everything from the past is wiped, they get a clean slate.

"As a parent myself I'd want to know who my daughter would be in the hands of, I'd want to know everything about their background."

Aasha Kimpton is a former elite gymnast who accused her ex-coach of physical and emotional abuse more than a decade ago. The coach, who denies all the allegations against her, is suspended and is still being investigated, so is therefore not named on the British Gymnastics list.

"I think there needs to be something in place to protect children, the way that myself and so many others were not protected because if this list was around in 2008 or 2009 I wouldn't have gone to that coach" Ms Kimpton told ITV News. 

Her case has dragged on longer than most and is currently sitting with the current post-Whyte complaints process, overseen by British Gymnastics.

Aasha Kimpton. Credit: ITV News

"I first complained in 2012 and we're now in 2023, and there has been no resolution," she added.

"The fact that British Gymnastics has brought out a list and this coach isn't on it makes it seem like they've had no wrongdoing, and that it's fine to hire them and it's fine for them to still be coaching, which is not the case."

Although suspended in 2017, Ms Kimpton's coach is still free to work in gyms not linked to British Gymnastics.

She believes that's potentially a serious safeguarding weakness, saying: "I think it is important that there is a list or a register where people can see what this coach or this teacher has done in the past and why they have been suspended and the fact they have been suspended for multiple years.

"People could still be teaching in schools or in non-British gymnastics affiliated venues."

British Gymnastics say its list of banned or expelled coaches is evolving. Credit: ITV News

In a statement, British Athletics said: "The publication of the banned and expelled members list reflects the wider ongoing commitment we made in Reform '25 - a comprehensive 41-point action plan to transform the sport through a two-year programme of activity.

"It is one part of a much bigger programme of reform that we are continuing to put in place with the input of gymnasts, coaches, clubs and parents so that we can ensure we deliver an uplifting gymnastics experience for everyone involved in our sport.

"Earlier today we made another significant step in publishing three new safeguarding policies for hydration, weighing gymnasts and academic education, all introduced to better protect the welfare of gymnasts.

"We were very open and clear that the information provided in the initial banned and expelled members list was a first step, and that following consultations with our members we would look to add more detail, and that is what we will be doing."