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I am sorry – British Gymnastics chief apologises for shocking abuse scandal

‘This is a genuine apology, from the sport, from myself, from the leadership’, Sarah Powell said.

Gymnast file image from 2014 Commonwealth Games
Gymnast file image from 2014 Commonwealth Games

British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell has issued a “genuine apology” for the abuse scandal that has rocked the sport, and admitted the governing body faces a long and difficult task to restore trust.

Safeguarding failures from junior to elite level have been catalogued in the Whyte Review, published on Thursday, which was jointly commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England.

The 306-page report accused British Gymnastics of presiding over an era in which money and medals mattered more than athlete safety, and said it had singularly failed to listen to athletes’ complaints.

Powell, whose predecessor Jane Allen was strongly criticised in the report, said: “I’ve been in sport for a very long time and sport has always been important to me.

“It’s something that has given me confidence and enjoyment in life. To read the recollection of these individuals who’ve had such a poor experience of the sport, which has clearly affected them and they’ve suffered because of it, is not acceptable.

“It’s emotional for me, I’m a mum and sport is not supposed to do this.

“I had to speak to gymnasts this morning, and it was hard, because you could see how it affected them. I looked them in the eye and said sorry. And I am sorry – to them for what they have experienced, and their parents and those around them who have also been affected.”

Powell said the governing body accepted all the recommendations in the report and “will not shy away” from taking the steps required to restore confidence in both British Gymnastics and the sport as a whole.

“This is a genuine apology, from the sport, from myself, from the leadership,” added Powell. “We have to set a new path, a new roadmap. Gymnastics will be different because of the bravery of the young people who spoke up.

“We know we will be judged by our actions, not our words. We are going to have to rebuild trust and that is not going to be easy. The practices of the past are not going to be the practices of the future.”

But the campaigning group Gymnasts for Change described the review as “too little too late” to lead to meaningful change in the sport under the governing body.

In a statement, the organisation said: “Ultimately the recommendations fall far short of what is needed, with reform needed beyond British Gymnastics at national and international governing body level.

“After two years of waiting, this is too little too late to change a culture of mistreatment. Every day without holistic and wholesale change, another gymnast is put at risk and these recommendations fall far short of the change needed.”

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday said she accepted all the recommendations in the report but strongly rejected suggestions that the funding body has ever prioritised medals over athlete welfare.

Anne Whyte QC was strongly critical of the organisation in her review, suggesting that it fostered a culture in which “medals mattered more… than athlete welfare”.

Munday said: “We welcome today’s report and accept and endorse all of its recommendations. The gymnasts’ experiences shared in this review are harrowing and distressing to read. We want to publicly acknowledge and thank all those courageous in coming forward.

“As the funding bodies, we have assurance systems in place to support national governing bodies. Today’s report recognises that, in recent years, improvements have been made to those assurance systems. Nevertheless, as the report found, the assurance systems in place did not identify, until relatively recently, long-standing cultural problems in gymnastics. For this we are sorry.”

However, Munday added: “We reject the notion that there has ever existed ‘cash for medals’.”

Referencing her former role in charge of England Hockey, she said: “Did I ever feel pressure to win medals at any cost? No. If I did, I would not have applied for the money in the first place.”

Allen, who retired as British Gymnastics chief executive in December 2020, said she was “deeply sorry” she did not provide more support for the gymnasts.

Allen was criticised in the review for a “lack of leadership” and an “organisational failure… to appreciate the central importance of athlete welfare”.

Allen said: “This is a critical moment for gymnastics, and for everyone involved in sport at any level. Like so many, I welcome the publication of this final report and its recommendations, knowing necessary changes will continue to come.

“It’s been very hard to hear the painful experiences shared by people in a sport that I’ve led and been dedicated to for so many years. Whilst a talented and committed team developed British Gymnastics in so many ways, there’s more
that I should have delivered across our culture.

“I’m deeply sorry I didn’t do more for everyone – especially the athletes – to feel supported, able to speak up and heard. There’s nothing more vital. This was under my leadership and it should have been different.

“I also recognise the role the media has played in giving those athletes the voice they sometimes felt denied and holding authority to account. This review will drive further positive change for everyone who is, or wants to be, involved in sport and ensure the best environment for them to experience all the good things it can offer.”

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