Amid a “global reckoning” for the sport, the Australian Human Rights Commission said it found a culture that tolerated emotional, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, as well as medical negligence and body-shaming directed at young athletes over decades.
The commission recommended an independent investigation into specific abuse allegations and a formal apology from gymnastics authorities, as well as stricter screening and a national register of coaches, who often have an outsized influence over vulnerable young women.
Gymnastics Australia called the findings “confronting” and said it “unreservedly apologises to all athletes and family members who have experienced any form of abuse”. It promised to adopt all 12 recommendations.
The world of gymnastics has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent times.
In the United States, former team doctor Larry Nassar was found guilty of sexually assaulting at least 265 identified victims over two decades, including star Simone Biles.
In Britain, accusations of abuse have made headlines while in Greece former gymnasts complained of having suffered decades of abuse “akin to torture” at the hands of one of their coaches.
The Australian inquiry was launched after local athletes took to social media to comment on the documentary “Athlete A” which concerned the allegations about Nassar.
Among the Australians sharing their own negative experiences was Yasmin Collier, who spoke of having to strip naked in front of a male adult masseuse.
The Australian commission received hundreds of submissions before delivering its final report.
“While many athletes have had positive experiences and relationships with their coaches, there was a persistent use of ‘authoritarian’ or highly disciplinary coaching styles,” their report said.
“A focus on ‘winning-at-all-costs’ and an acceptance of negative and abusive coaching behaviours has resulted in the silencing of the athlete voice and an increased risk of abuse and harm with significant short and long term impacts to gymnasts,” it stated.
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