Hefford said she felt a “great sense of vindication” following the release of a review by attorney Ann White, saying it “fully confirmed everything we knew from the anecdotes and had been reporting and campaigning for two years.”
White’s more than 300-page review published on Thursday concluded that British Gymnastics should have been aware of the “bullying, harassment and over-control” that took place at training clubs between 2008 and 2020.
“I grew up in a Soviet training camp in the heart of my native country. [the counties surrounding London]. It was too weird to believe. So as a child, just in a regular public school, trying to explain to my high school friends what my training life was like was difficult,” she said.
In the report, White highlighted the “recruitment of a significant number of trainers” from the former Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc.
“The technical prowess and experience of these coaches, while impressive, was sometimes accompanied by an autocratic and dismissive attitude towards the gymnasts that made the athletes feel like a commodity,” White wrote, adding that the ability of these coaches to produce titled gymnasts was admired and later emulated. trainers in the UK.
Hefford says what she experienced in the 1990s reflects incidents reported to White, who was commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England to look into allegations that British Gymnastics had not dealt with complaints for decades.
White received over 400 submissions and interviewed 190 people after demanding proof in August 2020.
In response to the review, British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell acknowledged on Thursday that the organization had failed gymnastics and issued an apology on behalf of the sports organization.
“I want to accept all recommendations and key findings, and we will work hard to ensure they are implemented quickly and reliably,” Powell said.
“But most importantly, I want to sincerely apologize on behalf of the management and the board for those gymnasts who have suffered because we did not meet the standards that are expected for our sport.”
Next generation protection
“When you try to raise the alarm as a child and get locked up, it makes you think that if you talk, they won’t believe you,” said Hefford, who retired from the sport in 1995. CNN.
“From that moment on, I never watched gymnastics. I went to hell with her. when I stopped competing, I began to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress associated with gymnastics, ”she added.
After years of distancing himself from the sport, Hefford now coaches adults in gymnastics, conducts body-positive gymnastics classes, and campaigns for change in the sport, especially recognition of historical violence.
Other gymnasts loudly supported the publication of the report. Two-time Olympian Becky Downey, who competed for Great Britain in the 2008 and 2016 Olympics, said the report “seems to be an excuse for me and many others who have known for so long about the serious cultural issues in sport.” I love more than anything in the world.”
White recommended systemic changes in her review, including calling on British Gymnastics to improve its complaints system by offering more detailed guidance on how problems should be investigated and better monitoring of complaints to better recognize patterns of abuse.
White also recommended that British Gymnastics review the level of responsibility delegated to volunteers and hire trained, experienced staff, as well as introduce mandatory safety training for all club owners and managers.
She added that British Gymnastics should appoint board members with experience in ensuring the well-being of children and protecting them from harm, as well as a director of education responsible for training coaches and social workers.
Downey added: “While this will never do what has been allowed to happen to me and many others, it was clear that we as athletes have been heard and I am extremely excited about the future of young gymnasts in this country. . ”
UK Sport and Sport England said they have accepted and endorsed the review’s recommendations and will continue to support British Gymnastics.
“We are committed to continuing to fund British Gymnastics at this time as we believe that the withdrawal of funding will not only prevent them from implementing the vital changes outlined in the report, but will negatively impact the support and well-being of gymnasts now,” UK Sport and Sport England.
“However, we are clear that continued funding for British Gymnastics will depend on whether its new leadership team makes significant changes to the sport within the time frame outlined in the report’s recommendations.”
First civil case won
This week, 18-year-old former elite acrobatic gymnast Eloise Jotishki won her first civil case against British Gymnastics for abuse she says she was subjected to by a coach.
According to a spokesperson for Gymnastics for Change, she and Hefford are part of a group of 39 plaintiffs involved in civil cases alleging historic abuse by British Gymnastics coaches.
Yotishki, who said her coach subjected her to inappropriate weight management practices and verbal abuse, told CNN Sport in an email that she is glad the report “finally exposed the catastrophic safety failures that led to the abuse of hundreds of gymnasts.” “.
In the report, White detailed material in which “some coaches went to great lengths to control what gymnasts ate and weighed, down to searching luggage and rooms for food. As a result, some gymnasts suffered (and still suffer) from food. disorders and related mental health problems.
Jotishki, who competed between the ages of eight and 14, told CNN Sport she was encouraged that British Gymnastics intends to implement the report’s recommendations.
But she expressed concern, saying “more needs to be done to address and reform the endemic culture of abuse that is so deeply rooted in sport.”
Specifically, Jotishki said she believes the coaching roster is critical: “Without a coaching roster, parents will never know when their child is being coached by someone who has accused them of abuse. Past failures have proven that parents should not be isolated, especially in sports where coaches are entrusted with the welfare of young children.”
When British Gymnastics was approached for comment on Jotishka’s comments, they declined to comment further.
Yotishki said that since becoming the first gymnast to win her lawsuit against British Gymnastics, she has been overwhelmed by the number of gymnasts who have contacted her to share their experiences.
“It shows that so many gymnasts are afraid to perform in public and that needs to change,” she said.
“The reality is that national governing bodies operate in a legal vacuum. And the only thing that will bring real cultural change to the sport in general and specifically to gymnastics is legislative changes,” she said, adding that she calls for mandatory reporting, under which parents, gymnasts and coaches at training facilities are required by law to report about any violations they notice.
Hefford said the survivors found it difficult to speak, adding that “there is such a defense in gymnastics culture.”
“You know that as a gymnast, if you talk about culture, it will have consequences. You will be ostracized from society, so it’s not easy,” she said.
UK Sport and Sport England referred to a joint CNN statement made last week when they were approached for additional comment.
The report comes as gymnastics institutions around the world have been forced to reckon with allegations of mistreatment and defense failures following an outpouring of survivor testimony.
In an open letter addressed to Sport Canada, the athletes called on the governing body to conduct an “independent third party investigation”.
At the time, GymCan stated that it was aware of the circulation of the letter and agreed that an external and independent organization should be set up to monitor the complaints.
In May, GymCan and its provincial member organizations said they had been briefed by the media about a proposed class action lawsuit filed in the British Columbia Supreme Court that named them as defendants.
It comes four years after disgraced former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.
At sentencing, 156 victims, including Olympic gold medalists Ali Raisman and McKayla Maroney, told stories of traveling to Nassar to receive treatment for sports injuries, only to be sexually assaulted, and said that it was a form of treatment.
Contenders include Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Raisman and Maroney, as well as world championship medalist Maggie Nichols. Each requested $50 million, according to the law firm that represents them.
CNN contacted the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, this month and officials declined to comment.