The Australian Human Rights Commission has today released the final report of the Independent Review of Gymnastics in Australia 2021 (the Review).
The Commission was engaged by Gymnastics Australia in August 2020 to conduct the Review following the release of the documentary ‘Athlete A’, which prompted athletes in Australia to come forward with their own experiences.
The Review gathered evidence on the nature and impact of misconduct, bullying, sexual harassment and assault on athletes, the drivers for such conduct, and the effectiveness of measures in place to prevent and respond to it. Over the course of the Review, the Commission identified systemic issues within the sport of gymnastics in Australia which are set out in the report published today.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins commended the bravery and determination of every person who shared their experiences with the Review, particularly the children and young people who participated, and said their commitment to improving the sport was evident.
“Members of the community shared experiences of abuse, misconduct and bullying, but they also shared stories of hope and of their love for the sport,” Commissioner Jenkins said.
The Commission’s report makes 12 recommendations for change with five overarching key findings:
- Current coaching practices create a risk of abuse and harm to athletes;
- There is insufficient focus on understanding and preventing the full range of behaviours that can constitute child abuse and neglect in gymnastics;
- A focus on ‘winning-at-all-costs’ and an acceptance of negative and abusive coaching behaviours has resulted in the silencing of the athlete voice and an increased risk of abuse and harm with significant short and long term impacts to gymnasts;
- There is an ongoing focus in gymnastics on the ‘ideal body’, especially for young female athletes. This, in addition to inappropriate and harmful weight management and body shaming practices, can result in the development of eating disorders and disordered eating which continue long after the athlete has left the sport; and
- Gymnastics at all levels has not appropriately and adequately addressed complaints of abuse and harm and are not effectively safeguarding children and young people.
“There is a spotlight on the human rights of athletes around the world and many of the lessons of this Review are critical to all sports in Australia,” Commissioner Jenkins said.
“This is an opportunity for gymnastics in Australia to lead the way on child safety and gender equality.”
There are approximately 231,000 athletes engaged in gymnastics in Australia. Of these athletes, 77% are female and 91% aged under the age of 12. Most gymnasts participate in the sport at a recreational level.
During the Review, the Commission conducted 47 interviews with 57 participants, including current and former athletes, their families, staff, coaches, and other relevant personnel. The Review also received 138 written submissions.
The Review also included a high-level review of relevant corporate policies, protocols and governance structures at all levels of the sport, and meetings with senior executives and subject matter experts on a range of relevant areas including, sport governance and eating disorders.