Australia ex-gymnasts speak out on ‘abuse’ culture

Dozens of Australia’s former top gymnasts have spoken out to allege instances of mental and physical abuse within the nation’s elite programme.

In stories shared online, many argued that coaches normalised a “toxic” environment.

Gymnastics Australia has acknowledged the allegations, saying it wishes to improve the sport’s culture.

It follows a similar reckoning for the sport in the US and UK, where an inquiry has been launched.

Many of the Australian gymnasts said they had been motivated to speak up following the release of a Netflix documentary about the cover-up of sexual abuse within the USA Gymnastics team.

The case of Larry Nassar, the US team doctor, gained global attention following accusations from top Olympians. He was jailed in 2018 for molesting hundreds of young gymnasts.

What are the allegations in Australia?

Though none have alleged sexual abuse, generations of former gymnasts have posted publicly about damaging experiences. Their allegations include:

Chloe Gilliland, a gold medallist at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, said she had felt depressed and anxious at her “peak”, and left the sport for her own wellbeing when she was 17.

She said was regularly insulted by her coaches, called stupid and overweight, and isolated from her teammates. She added she had suicidal thoughts.

Olivia Vivian, who began in the sport when she was nine, said she learnt as a child to hide experiences from her parents.

She represented Australia at the 2008 Olympics but after reaching that level became “a broken athlete and a broken person,” she wrote on Instagram.

She said she only rebuilt her love for the sport after moving to the US, where she found a “positive and supportive environment”.

View this post on Instagram

Since the release of ‘Athlete A’ on Netflix I’ve experienced some relatable memories resurface after burying them deep deep down and bolting them under emotional floorboards. This past week I’ve seen, heard and listened to some fellow gymnasts release their stories and questioned myself as to whether I get involved as well. . I’m unsure if I’ll get much personal satisfaction or growth out of a post like this, but I’ve come to understand that it could help someone else and potentially the future of elite gymnastics, and that’s more important to me. . I know that every elite gymnast will have varied experiences, and even similar ones that might have varied effects based on different circumstances. Regardless I hope by sharing, it continues the #gymnastalliance & #gymnastallianceaus and can promote a healthier future for this beautiful sport. Swipe across in photos for my story (apparently too long for insta post)

A post shared by Olivia Vivian (@oliviavivian) on

Since the release of ‘Athlete A’ on Netflix I’ve experienced some relatable memories resurface after burying them deep deep down and bolting them under emotional floorboards. This past week I’ve seen, heard and listened to some fellow gymnasts release their stories and questioned myself as to whether I get involved as well. . I’m unsure if I’ll get much personal satisfaction or growth out of a post like this, but I’ve come to understand that it could help someone else and potentially the future of elite gymnastics, and that’s more important to me. . I know that every elite gymnast will have varied experiences, and even similar ones that might have varied effects based on different circumstances. Regardless I hope by sharing, it continues the #gymnastalliance & #gymnastallianceaus and can promote a healthier future for this beautiful sport. Swipe across in photos for my story (apparently too long for insta post)

A post shared by Olivia Vivian (@oliviavivian) on

End of Instagram post by oliviavivian

Why have they spoken out?

Many said they wished to change the environment for other children and teenagers currently in the sport.

“I am scared to share my story, but at some point, someone has to stand up for the athletes,” said Mary-Anne Monckton, who won two silver medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

“The abuse (physical, mental and emotional) needs to stop, or at least be stamped out of our sport,” she said.

Many also alleged that some adults in the programme were complicit in their silence.

What has Gymnastics Australia said?

The sport’s local governing body said it had “zero tolerance to any form of abuse in our sport” and was committed to changing its culture.

Chief executive Kitty Chiller said in a statement: “We acknowledge and applaud those who have spoken up – their courage and their voice.”

She did not respond to specific allegations, but said a complaints procedure had been established. There were also “listening groups” to hear general concerns, she added.

“I want you to know that we are here to listen. And we are here to act,” she said.

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