Becky Downie and sister Ellie had previously been afraid to speak out
Warning: This article contains some description of graphic injuries and abuse.
Gymnasts have been “heard” and “vindicated” following the release of the report detailing the “systemic” abuse of gymnasts in Britain, says two-time Olympian Becky Downie.
the Whyte Reviewreleased on Thursday, heard from athletes who were made to train on broken bones, punished for needing the toilet, sat on by coaches, and subjected to excessive weight management.
In 2020, Downie and younger sister Ellie said abusive behavior in gymnastics training became “ingrained” and “completely normalised”.
But on Friday, Becky Downie said she had already seen a “drastic change” in the sport in this country.
“I didn’t want to respond until I’d had adequate time to read and properly digest everything in yesterday’s announcement,” she said in a statement on Twitter.
“Twenty-four hours later my overwhelming feeling is: we’ve finally been heard.
“It feels like a vindication for myself and so many who have known for so long of the serious cultural problems within the sport. A sport I love more than anything.
“Finally everyone knows the truth and while it won’t directly benefit those who have experienced it, it’s encouraging to know that if the recommendations are implemented, it’ll protect and enhance the next generation of gymnasts.”
The 306-page Whyte Review, led by Anne Whyte QC, and co-commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England at a cost of £3m, received more than 400 submissions of evidence.
Of those, more than 40% described physically abusive behavior by coaches, more than 50% reported an element of emotional abuse, some 30 submissions included allegations of sexual abuse and more than 25% included reference to excessive weight management.
“Already this year I’ve seen a drastic change in the approach of top level gymnastics in this country,” Downie added.
“There’s a unity among everyone and a genuine desire to allow athlete-led programs in conjunction with coaches. It can only benefit everyone if athletes and coaches both have voices.
“To be clear, athletes are no longer weighed within the national environment unless for very specific growth monitoring or medical reasons, and adequate food and drink intake are also actively encouraged.
“It has been made clear us athletes have been heard, and I’m overwhelmingly encouraged for the future of young gymnasts in this country.”
Gymnastics’ international federation, the FIG, also said it was satisfied by what it has seen so far in British Gymnastics’ efforts to reform the sport.
It said: “The FIG is convinced that the new management of British Gymnastics has begun to put in place the reforms needed to ensure that athlete welfare comes first in all cases.”
An agent of several gymnasts told BBC Sport all their clients also felt vindicated by the report. However, while the abuse has been confirmed they don’t know if their abusers will still be in gym on Monday and feel let down that British Gymnastics has put them in this position.
‘This was child abuse’
‘This isn’t tough coaching and slight mistreatment’ – reaction to the Whyte Review
On Thursday, former gymnast Nicole Pavier told BBC Sport the “damning” Whyte Review shows that “child abuse” of athletes was taking place.
During the period of the review (2008-2020), more than 75% of British Gymnastics’ members were children under the age of 12.
“This isn’t tough coaching and slight mistreatment, this is child abuse of athletes at a very young age,” she said.
“That has a monumental impact on the rest of our lives from a physical and mental perspective.”
Pavier was one of the first gymnasts to speak to BBC Sport in 2020 about her experiences in the sport, and said in the two years since it had “put a lot of stress” onto the athletes who went public with their allegations.
“I think it is a good starting point and stepping stone into changing the culture of abuse that is in gymnastics at the minute,” she said.
“And Anne Whyte’s damning report into the sport will hopefully make [British Gymnastics] step up and create some positive changes.
“This is showing that it’s not just a few bad apples, which we had been led to believe, and actually by using our voices we now know that there is a culture of abuse and these are children being abused in clubs and there are a large amount of them.”
London 2012 Olympic gymnast Jennifer McIlveen (nee Pinches) said the Whyte Review laid bare the extent of the “institutional betrayal of gymnasts” in Britain.
McIlveen is part of the Gymnasts For Change campaign group and said the report was “upsetting and shocking to read” but is “not news” to the group.
“It’s definitely very validating to see on paper what we’ve been saying all along and for gymnasts to see experiences that mirror their own – knowing that they’re not alone has been a really important part of the change movement,” she told the BBC Sports.
She added she was “encouraged” by the review’s recommendations and by the words of British Gymnastics new chief executive Sarah Powell, calling it a “watershed moment”.
However, Gymnasts For Change said the report’s recommendations – which focus on safeguarding and welfare, complaints handling, standards and education, and governance and oversight – “fall far short of what is needed”.
In a statement, it said: “Every day without holistic and wholesale change, another gymnast is put at risk and these recommendations fall far short of the change needed.
“We are calling for maximum limits on child athlete training hours and new government legislation on child abuse.”
‘Sport can’t keep paying the price’
In addition to her 17 recommendations in the review, Whyte said a sports ombudsman would be “an obvious step in the right direction”.
She said: “One wonders how many sporting scandals it will take before the government of the day appreciates it needs to take more action to protect children who participate in sport, a sector where coaches do not have a central regulator and where most complaints lack independent resolution.”
There have been previous calls for a sports ombudsman, in 2017 Baroness Grey-Thompson recommended the position be created with a view to holding national governing bodies to account for the duty of care they provide.
“I do believe there needs to be an independent body because the cost of this review, the human cost, the financial cost, is not one that that sport can keep paying,” she told BBC Sport on Thursday.
“I see sort of some kind of independent body as the next step in terms of responsible sport. I think it could happen relatively quickly, because how many how many more times does sport have to go through this? It’s just horrible.
“Something needs to be in place and what I would say anyone who runs sport government must think about if this was your child, think about how you would feel if you knew that has happened to someone close to you. And that’s why I think we have to step in.”
If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, there is information and support available on BBC Action Line.