British Gymnastics crisis deepens with call for chief executive to quit

By on July 9, 2020

The crisis enveloping British Gymnastics has intensified with the former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lisa Mason calling for the resignation of the chief executive, Jane Allen, in the wake of the abuse scandal, and the four-times Olympic medallist Louis Smith accusing the governing body of not wanting to taint its image by alerting the public to complaints made against coaches.

Mason, whose decision to speak out about being bullied by a former coach has led to nearly a dozen other gymnasts coming forward with similar stories, told the Guardian she thought British Gymnastics lacked transparency, had protected coaches accused of misconduct, and that Allen should take responsibility for the scandal occurring on her watch.

“This is the same woman who has been in the same position for the last 10-plus years,” Mason said. “She was there when stuff happened to Dan Keating, who spoke out about a culture of fear in 2017, as well as other gymnasts who are now coming forward.

“You’ve got multiple current members of the Team GB setup that still have their stories to tell and I’m sure they will do so after the Olympics, because they’re not going to want to rock the boat before then because gymnasts fear that if they dare speak up then they will be silenced.” She added: “British Gymnastics is like the film Mean Girls. That is the only way I can explain what it’s like. You have your cliques, and if you don’t fit in then you are an outcast.”

Mason also said there was a lack of transparency in the sport that needed fixing. “USA Gymnastics have a section on their website where any coach that has been suspended, whether they’ve been cleared or not, is highlighted. Why do we not have anything like that in place in Britain? There are multiple coaches that have had complaints against them going back many years.”

Jane Allen, the chief executive of British Gymnastics. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The Guardian has asked British Gymnastics how many complaints it has received about coaches over the past 15 years as well as how many it has investigated, and how many led to the coach being suspended. It said it was looking into the issue but did not have the data immediately to hand.

Smith, who won medals at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics, also accused British Gymnastics of not doing enough to investigate coaches accused of wrongdoing. “When it comes to coaches and complaints, I feel British Gymnastics are scared to taint their image,” he said. “When you think about its success since Beijing, and the £16m in funding from UK Sport, British Gymnastics has grown into this massive enterprise.

“It is constantly trying to get young kids into the sport and membership is going through the roof and they can’t be putting out press statements making it public knowledge every time a complaint comes in about a coach,” he added.

“It would look terrible. So they try to deal with it quietly. It is in their best interests. I am not saying they ignore it but I am saying it is done very quietly and, if it can go away through lack of evidence they will make it go away, unfortunately.”

When Mason and Smith’s comments were put to British Gymnastics it said that an independent review, announced on Tuesday, would ensure that all those with concerns about safeguarding and abuse had the correct and proper channel to raise any issues.

“The behaviours identified in media reports have no place in our sport,” it added. “While we have a mandatory positive coaching behaviours programme and an integrity unit to investigate allegations of emotional abuse and bullying, it is clear there is more work to be done to understand why some gymnasts feel reluctant to report bad behaviours of coaches.

“The review we have announced will be independent. The review’s conclusions and recommendations will be the QC’s alone. British Gymnastics will do everything needed to support the review, but will not seek to influence it. We are determined to get to the bottom of these issues and learn lessons that will help the sport.”

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