“Shocking and upsetting” allegations of serious physical and emotional abuse made in British Gymnastics

July 10th, 2020

It is reported that British Gymnastics is to have “shocking and upsetting” allegations of serious physical and emotional abuse made by multiple elite Gymnasts investigated by an independent inquiry. 

The inquiry will be led by Jane Mulhany QC, who is a specialist employment and sports barrister. 

One gymnast, Francesca Fox, who competed at the London 2012 Games, told ITV News that she was fat-shamed by her coaches and constantly told she was “fat” and “looked like a hippo” and ended up weighing herself up to 10 times a day as a result. Her allegations come after another British Olympian gymnast, Lisa Mason, said that she had been forced to train until her hands bled. She said  “My hands would then be pulled down and surgical spirit would be poured all over them,” she added. “I would also have Astro Turf put under the bars so I would burn my feet if I didn’t keep them up. But everyone else is going through it, so you think it’s normal.” 

Other incidents include a high profile gymnast alleging that as a 10 year old she was locked in a cupboard by her coach and reports from three centres of excellence where UK gymnasts were routinely “fat-shamed” by their coaches.  

UK Sport, the government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic Sport in the United Kingdom said “These allegations relating to the treatment of young athletes within gymnastics are shocking and upsetting,” it said. “There is absolutely no place for any sort of bullying or abuse in sport and anyone responsible for such behaviour must be held accountable, with support offered to those affected.”  Despite UK Sport’s statement, athletes in other Olympic and Paralympic sports have, over the past few years, made allegations of sexism and disability discrimination in other sports such as cycling, swimming, canoeing and bobsled.  

It is said that there is a fear within the sport that speaking out now may harm their chances of being selected to compete in the for the Tokyo Olympics which has been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, however, there has been an increasing number of British gymnasts who are coming forward in relation to abuse they have suffered within the sport. These disclosures of abuse in the UK sport have gained traction since the broadcast of a Netflix documentary “Athlete A” which focuses on the survivors of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar who was accused of sexually assaulting at least 250 young female gymnasts dating back to 1992. Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges of making child abuse images and a further 175 years after pleading guilty to multiple sexual assaults on minors.   

David Hawkins, a specialist abuse lawyer with Verisona Law’s award-winning Child Abuse Team said “As far as we know, UK gymnastics has not seen prolific sexual abuse on the scale of that perpetrated by Larry Nassar in the US, but it I hope that the independent inquiry will shine a light on the abuses that occur within UK gymnastics which are damaging children and young people whose dream is to make it within the sport. Fat-shaming and harsh training practices especially of young people is unacceptable and is abuse.  It should have no place in UK sport.

If anyone has experienced abuse within UK gymnastics, or any other sport, I encourage them to come forward to the Inquiry or to the Police where your voice will be heard. I have extensive experience in holding sporting institutions, including Premier League football clubs, to account for abuse that has happened to aspiring athletes so if you want to discuss your legal rights in complete confidence, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.”