The WA Government has apologized to gymnasts who suffered alleged abuse and mistreatment while participating in the Western Australian Institute of Sport’s women’s artistic gymnastics program over a 28-year period.
- Dozens of women say they have been abused by WAIS trainers and staff
- A report details allegations by children of being subjected to a “culture of fear”.
- Former gymnasts have welcomed a child protection unit for the sport
Sports and Recreation Secretary David Templeman has also directed his department to undertake a “comprehensive review of the WAIS’ governance and culture” and set up a specialist child protection unit to ensure the protection of children at all levels of sport.
The new entity was hailed as “a leading step in protecting young athletes in Western Australia” by Gymnast Alliance Australia (GAA), which represents many of the former child gymnasts who have suffered while training in what was supposed to be a safe environment.
The Department of Local Government, Sports and Culture Industries will also step in to ensure WAIS conducts a proper recovery and reconciliation process.
That was a key recommendation of a review of the WAIS by Sport Integrity Australia (SIA), commissioned after dozens of women came forward claiming they were systematically more physically fit while training in the elite program from 1988 to 2016 been subjected to emotional abuse by coaches and staff.
The report, delivered in April, detailed allegations about children being subjected to a “culture of fear” that included verbal and physical abuse, frequent and traumatizing skin-fold tests, weight shame and the expectation of exercising while injured.
Women revealed ‘systemic problems’
Mr Templeman outlined the government’s response to the SIA report and told Parliament today he recognized the courage shown by the women who shared their experiences under the review.
“Your contribution uncovered systemic issues and unacceptable behavior in the WAIS WAG program that had worrying, long-term consequences for many Turner participants,” said Mr. Templeman.
“The WA Government apologizes unreservedly to all gymnasts who have suffered as a result of participating in the WAIS program and to the families and carers of those affected.”
The review also found that most of the gymnasts involved at the time were children, some as young as five, and the likely psychological, emotional, and physical abuse they suffered was a result of coaching practices that never would have happened allowed to.
Sorry a “starting point”: Turner
Gymnast Alliance Australia (GAA) said the systemic issues and unacceptable behavior in the program had worrying, long-term consequences for many gymnasts.
“It is with some relief that we accept the Western Australian Government’s apology,” said GAA spokeswoman and former Olympian Jen Smith.
“Although it does not undo past actions, apology is a starting point in our healing process.
“Without the Department’s intervention and oversight, we seriously doubt that WAIS would meaningfully and in good faith engage in this process.”
When the review was released, WAIS Chairman Neil McLean apologized for the abuse and harm suffered by the child athletes.
The review also recommended that WAIS adopt the National Integrity Framework, including an independent grievance-handling process; ensure that all sports programs involving children are child- and age-appropriate; and continue to embed athlete well-being in policies, procedures and practices in all sports programs.
Department for monitoring WAIS changes
The WAIS has agreed to adopt all of the recommendations, but Mr Templeman has instructed his department to monitor and audit the sport’s governing body’s compliance with and implementation of the recommendations.
There will also be a comprehensive review of governance and culture at WAIS.
“The implementation of these recommendations and the implementation of these actions will be conducted in consultation with the affected gymnasts,” said Mr. Templeman.
“The safety and welfare of our young athletes is of paramount importance. We all have a duty of care to the young people in elite sport programs.”
The GAA welcomed the governance and culture review.
“GAA remains hopeful that an improvement in the leadership and culture of WAIS will support athletes who care so much about the institute, our state and our country,” said Ms. Smith.
“You deserve better.”
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