Gymnastics Australia asks human rights group to probe abuse

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Complaints by at least 20 former Australian gymnasts about physical and mental abuse during their careers has prompted Gymnastics Australia to ask a human rights group to investigate.

The gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalists, have recently spoken of a toxic culture within the sport. They also used social media platforms to detail fat-shaming and other forms of abuse. Gymnastics Australia has asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to examine the sport’s culture and practices. The identities of the athletes were not disclosed.

“Over the last couple of weeks athletes have shared their personal experiences. Many of those experiences are, quite simply, not acceptable,” Gymnastics Australia chief executive officer Kitty Chiller said Thursday.  “They reinforce the need for more to be done to change the culture of gymnastics.”  Chiller said the human rights commission would review all aspects of the sport.

“The review will build an understanding of the culture of gymnastics in Australia and any barriers there may be in reporting behaviors that go against what we stand for — zero tolerance of any form of abuse,” Chiller said.

The review, due to be completed by March, was welcomed by the Australian Olympic Committee.

“Committing to an independent review of policies, practices and governance structures sends a strong signal to the gymnastics community and indeed the broader sporting community of their (Gymnastics Australia) commitment,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said.

The investigation comes as the Dutch gymnastics federation suspended its women’s training program this week to investigate allegations of intimidation and abuse. The federation says coaches involved in the program will no longer have an active role until a probe into “unacceptable behavior and intimidation” is completed. The move came with just under a year to go until the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. The announcement on Wednesday followed days of reports in Dutch media in which former gymnasts complained of intimidation and physical abuse by coaches.