Revolution in British Gymnastics Coaches No Longer Weigh Gymnasts

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In a landmark move to address issues of “bullying, harassment, and excessive control” within the sport, British Gymnastics has implemented a series of new policies, one of which prohibits coaches from weighing gymnasts. The new measures, announced recently, mark a significant step towards safeguarding the well-being of gymnasts in the UK.

Under these fresh guidelines, only gymnasts aged 10 or above can be weighed in a gymnastics setting, and this must always be done with the explicit consent of the gymnast. Moreover, the weighing process must be conducted by qualified sport science or medical practitioners and must be supported by clear, scientifically valid reasons, as stated by the governing body in a press release provided to CNN Sport.

These policies, which constitute the first wave of measures aimed at enhancing athlete welfare, also include provisions that coaches are strictly forbidden from weighing gymnasts. They are further required to ensure that gymnasts receive adequate hydration and opportunities to use the restroom. Additionally, under these new regulations, gymnasts cannot be compelled to miss formal education classes for the sake of gymnastics training.

The need for these measures became evident following an independent review conducted in June 2022, which exposed a culture of physical and emotional abuse within British Gymnastics. The review revealed instances of children being body-shamed, belittled, and subjected to abuse.

Anne Whyte, a barrister who led the review, concluded that British Gymnastics should have been aware of the “bullying, harassment, and excessive control” occurring in training clubs between 2008 and 2020. Former gymnast Claire Heafford, who participated in British gymnastics during the 1990s, shared her traumatic experience with CNN Sport in 2022, recounting instances of physical and emotional abuse during her time in the sport.

Heafford explained, “My own experience was that I was trained by the first Russian that was brought over to the UK in the 90s. I grew up in a Soviet training camp in the heart of the home counties [the counties surrounding London]. It was too bizarre to be believed.”

The 2022 report by Anne Whyte highlighted the recruitment of a significant number of coaches from the former Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc. While acknowledging the technical skill and experience of these coaches, Whyte pointed out that their attitude towards gymnasts was often autocratic and dismissive, leaving athletes feeling like commodities.

Heafford’s experiences from the 1990s aligned with incidents reported to Whyte, who was commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England to investigate allegations of British Gymnastics failing to address complaints spanning decades.

Heafford emphasized the challenges of speaking out as a child, stating, “When you do try to raise the alarm as a child and you’re shut down, it makes you think that if you do speak out, you’re not going to be believed.” She eventually left the sport in 1995.

Following the release of the Whyte report, British Gymnastics’ chief executive, Sarah Powell, publicly acknowledged the organization’s shortcomings and offered a heartfelt apology on behalf of the sporting body.

In the latest statement issued by British Gymnastics, Powell emphasized their commitment to the welfare of gymnasts, saying, “Above all else, we care about gymnasts as people, and these new policies make clear that what matters most in gymnastics is the welfare of those involved.”

She continued, “While practices have moved on a long way, we know there has been poor practice in these areas. By providing clarity for gymnasts, parents and carers, coaches, clubs, volunteers, and officials through the statements set out in these policies, it will ensure everyone understands what is OK and what is not OK and help prevent that happening in the future.”

British Gymnastics is taking significant steps to address issues of abuse and harassment within the sport, with the implementation of strict policies aimed at safeguarding the well-being of gymnasts. These measures, which include the ban on coaches weighing gymnasts and ensuring their access to hydration and education, are in response to a damning independent review that exposed a culture of abuse within the organization.

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