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16th Jun 2022

The Whyte Review: Child gymnasts in UK abused and denied water, food and toilet breaks

Steve Hopkins

The review found the scale of emotional abuse was ‘far larger than British Gymnastics had appreciated’

British Gymnastics enabled a culture where young gymnasts were shamed, humiliated and physically and mentally abused, a damning report released Thursday reveals.

The Whyte Review, co-commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England, found gymnast wellbeing and welfare “has not been at the centre of British Gymnastics’ culture” which prioritised the pursuit of medals.

The review found the abuse was “systemic” and said the difficulties now facing British Gymnastics are “borne of inadequate practice and procedure”, and reflect a culture which was the product of “the way in which people behaved and were allowed to behave”.

Commissioned in 2020 following allegations of abuse and mistreatment within gymnastics in Britain, the review said British Gymnastics had “not only failed to prevent or limit such behaviours but had condoned some of them in the pursuit of national and international competitive success”.

The review focussed on the period from August 2008 to August 2020 and received more than 400 submissions –  including 133 from current and former gymnasts. More than 40 per cent of those submissions described physically abusive behaviour towards gymnasts by coaches, including physical chastisement, inappropriate training on injury, overstretching to the point of distress and withholding food, water and access to the toilet.

More than 50 per cent reported an element of emotional abuse by coaches, such as swearing, name calling, use of belittling language and gaslighting. Thirty per cent included allegations of sexual abuse and more than a quarter included reference to excessive weight loss.

In addition to her 17 recommendations, Anne Whyte QC said a sports ombudsman would be “an obvious step in the right direction” and stipulated that the British Gymnastics board publish details of its progress in complying with her recommendations at six, 12 and 24-month intervals, with the expectation that “most if not all of them” are implemented within two years.

In a statement after the review was released, UK Sport and Sport England said they “welcomed” the report and “accepted and endorsed” its recommendations – adding gymnastics’ continued funding will “depend on its new leadership teams making significant changes to the sport” in the timeline set by Whyte.


British Gymnastics said it wanted to “wholeheartedly apologise” to gymnasts who had suffered and promised it would “not shy away from doing what is needed”.

Chief executive Sarah Powell said: “I wish to acknowledge the failings of our sport that are clearly laid out within the report.

“I wish to accept all of the recommendations and the key findings and we will work hard to ensure that these are acted upon quickly and robustly. But most importantly, I want to wholeheartedly apologise on behalf of the leadership and the board for those gymnasts who have suffered because we have not met the standards that are expected of our sport.”

Whyte said in the report: “I hope that the findings in this report will allow the gymnast community to feel that the failures of the past have been publicly recognised and enable the sport to move forward and make positive changes.”

The report found that the “vast majority” of reports about physically and emotionally abusive behaviour related to female gymnasts, was more prevalent at the elite level and that “the tyranny of the scales was coach-led and quite unnecessary”. No individual coaches were named, but Whyte said the scale of emotional abuse was “far larger than British Gymnastics had appreciated”.

During the 12-year period covered by the review – during which British Gymnastics received more than £38m in UK Sport funding – the governing body received approximately 3,800 complaints, the BBC noted.

The broadcaster noted that some incidents contained in the report included:

  • One former elite gymnast described being made to stand on the beam for two hours because she was frightened to attempt a skill.
  • Gymnasts strapped to bars for extended periods of time while others made to climb the rope because they needed the toilet or exceeded a break time
  • Gymnast deliberately dropped from equipment and dragged across the gym floor by their arms, while others were pressured to to train on injuries, including broken bones
  • Gymnast, age seven, sat on by a coach, while a parent reported two coaches at once pushing their child’s legs down into a split
  • International competitor recalled their coach sitting on a gymnast’s back, forcing their hips into the floor and then lifting up their knee
  • Verbal comments made to gymnasts included that they were “a waste of space”, “a joke” and “pathetic” – while in relation to excessive weight management, comments included “you look like a whale”, “you look like you have a beer belly”, and “your thighs are disgusting”
  • Gymnasts had their weights publicly announced, were told to send photographs to prove they had lost weight, and had their lunch packs and bags searched for food

Read the full report here.

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