Gymnastics abuse: Athletes reveal their stories after Whyte Review report

This week, a damning report led by Anne Whyte QC laid bare “systemic” issues of physical and emotional abuse in gymnastics, as well as some incidents of sexual abuse.

The £3m review and its 306-page report detailed incidents of athletes being made to train on broken bones, punished for needing the toilet, sat on by coaches, and subjected to excessive weight management – which left some with eating disorders described as the “tyranny of the scales” by Whyte.

The report anonymised the hundreds of athlete submissions it received and did not identify individual coaches.

BBC Sport has worked on this story for two years and previously heard first-hand from some of the victims of this abuse, who then became whistleblowers.

Here are some of their stories.

Nicole Pavier

Nicole Pavier
Nicole Pavier says she became “terrified” she would put on weight

Nicole Pavier was one of the first gymnasts to speak to BBC Sport about her experiences of abuse in the sport. She developed bulimia when she was 14 and retired three years later after becoming “a shell of a person”.

“I don’t know how to describe it without just saying the whole situation was abusive – from the coaches we had screaming and shouting and swearing, being physically hands on when we would do things, not listening to us if we were injured.

“I had some twinging in my hip and my coach didn’t believe me. Then I was on the floor and felt a crack in my back and then she screamed at me to finish my routine, and told my mum I wasn’t doing anything I was told in training.

“[My coach] was very angry… and made me feel responsible for what was going on. The doctor found stress fractures in my lower back.

“[Gymnasts were weighed] twice a week at that point, and if we were gaining weight coaches would tell our parents to put us on a diet.

“If we couldn’t do something or our routines weren’t going well, it would be ‘go and get on the scales, you’ve put on weight that’s why, go and spend an hour on the cross trainer, do this conditioning ‘You need to lose weight by this point for your gymnastics to be any better’.

“Scales are still a major problem for me – part of my discharge from my eating disorder place was me not having scales in my house, and if I go to doctors now I have to get on [the scale] backwards so I don’t see what I weigh because of all the bad memories and fear it brings back to me.”

Read the full story.

Poppy Wynn

Poppy Wynn’s former coach, Liz Kincaid, was pulled from Great Britain’s coaching squad just weeks before the Tokyo Olympics last year after a serious allegation was made against her. Kincaid denies all allegations.

At the age of 12, former Welsh gymnast Wynn – now 25 – tore her perineum after landing in oversplits – splits that go further than 180 degrees and bring the legs and feet above the hips – after a missed catch on the bars, when she was not being monitored.

“I went to Liz, I had blood dripping down my leg and she then took me into the office and gave me sanitary pads to effectively mop up the blood and then sent me back into the gym.

“I don’t believe you could see what happened and think anything else than [that it was] quite a serious injury. She didn’t ring my parents until later, because it was several hours until my mum came to pick me up.

“My mum had been told that it wasn’t something to worry about, [that] I’d just started menstruating. I told my mum I’d had some sort of injury or accident, so she took a look, and she was horrified. She said it was worse than childbirth.

“She took me to the hospital and they were so concerned. I saw a nurse, then a doctor, and they then said that a gynaecologist had to see me.”

Read the full story.

Eloise Jotischky

Eloise Jotischky
Eloise Jotischky says she quit acrobatic gymnastics as a result of her experiences in the sport

Former acrobatic gymnast Eloise Jotischky was the first to win a civil case against British Gymnastics for the abuse she experienced in the sport. The governing body admitted full liability.

She alleges she was left “physically exhausted” after being subjected to inappropriate weight management techniques by her former coach, Andrew Griffiths. Griffiths, who did not respond to BBC Sport requests for comment, has canceled his British Gymnastics membership and is no longer permitted to coach under them.

“The weighing sessions could be more than once a week. It was every Saturday, but sometimes we’d also be weighed during the week as well if they didn’t like the way we looked.

“We’d have to line up and step on the scales with everyone else there, and sometimes they’d announce our weight or tell us to step to the side if they weren’t happy with our weight so that they could have a conversation with us afterwards.”

This would make Jotischky so “incredibly anxious” that towards the end of each week her stress levels would make her feel sick. She would limit her water intake and sit in “boiling hot” baths to try to lose weight quickly.

She alleges Griffiths would also “shout and scream” at her and other gymnasts if he did not approve of their weight.

“We were sitting on the sofa just physically shaking. Having a grown man scream over you, it was terrifying.

“I think being scared from that then contributed to my routine on a Friday night having the hot baths because I was so terrified of what was to come, the consequences of not losing weight.”

Read the full story.

Abuse in gymnastics – timeline & BBC reporting on this story

The Whyte Review report did not mention individual coaches or athletes.

  • July 2020: Nicole Pavier is among a number of gymnasts to make the first allegations of a “culture of fear” within the “mentally and emotionally abusive” sport of gymnastics.
  • Olympians Becky and Ellie Downie say abusive behavior in gymnastics training became “ingrained” and “completely normalised”, and then British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen says she is “appalled and ashamed” by the allegations.
  • Olympic bronze medalist Amy Tinkler criticizes British Gymnastics for the time it has taken to investigate a formal complaint she made in 2019.
  • A helpline is launched by the NSPCC and British Athletes Commission to support gymnasts. It receives more than 120 calls in its first five weeks.
  • August 2020: The Whyte Review is formally started.
  • Pavier’s former coach, Claire Barbieriis suspended, while British Gymnastics’ head national coach Amanda Reddin steps aside after allegations are made against her. Both denied the allegations made against them.
  • Olympic bronze medalist Nile Wilson alleges gymnasts are “treated like pieces of meat”.
  • September 2020: Two further coaches – Helen Potter and Rory Weavers – are temporarily suspended pending investigation. Both denied the allegations made against them. Their temporary suspension has since been lifted.
  • October 2020: British Gymnastics chief executive Allen announces she will retire in Dec.
  • November 2020: British Gymnastics sets up an independent complaints process to oversee allegations of mistreatment by athletes.
  • February 2021: A group of 17 start legal action against British Gymnastics. A further 20 later join the group claim.
  • June 2021: Sarah Powell is named British Gymnastics chief executive, and says she is “under no illusions about the scale of change needed” to improve the culture at the organisation.
  • August 2021: British Gymnastics chair Mike Darcey apologises to the gymnastics community for failing to act on allegations of mistreatment.
  • April 2022: BBC Sport reveals leading coach Liz Kincaid was pulled from Great Britain’s coaching squad just weeks before the Tokyo Olympics after a serious allegation was made against her. She denied doing wrong.
  • May 2022: National head coach Reddin steps down from her position with immediate effect. Previous claims against her were not upheld and her suspension was lifted, but another independent investigation is ongoing into “further historical complaints”.
  • June 2022: BBC Sport reveals ex-acrobatic gymnast Eloise Jotischky is the first to win a civil case against British Gymnastics for the abuse she experienced in the sport, with the organization admitting full liability.
  • The Whyte Review is published.

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