Australian sports body apologizes over gymnastics report

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian Sports Commission has apologized to athletes treated inappropriately at the Australian Institute of Sport following an independent review into gymnastics heard evidence of a toxic culture that contributed to physical, emotional and sexual abuse of young athletes.

Multiple athletes detailed their negative experiences at the AIS in the report, including the organization’s heavy focus on the ideal body. One interviewee said: “As far as the AIS was concerned, the smaller and more petite you were, the better gymnast you made.”

On Friday, the sports commission said it “offers our apology and ongoing support to former Australian Institute of Sport athletes treated inappropriately in the past.”

“We know incidents and practices occurred that are not acceptable. For this, we are truly sorry. We admire the courage of people who have come forward to share their stories.”

Gymnastics Australia last August asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to examine the sport’s culture and practices following complaints from at least 20 former gymnasts, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games medalists, about physical and mental abuse during their careers.

The findings of the report were released Monday, with the Commission determining that the key drivers of the problems were: a ‘win-at-all costs’ approach, the young age of female gymnasts, a culture of control, and a tolerance of negative behaviors.

Kate Jenkins, the Australian HRC’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, said gymnasts shared experiences of abuse, misconduct and bullying and the review found “significant cultural challenges . . . cutting across coaching practices, the health, safety and well-being of gymnasts, complaints and investigations, and governance.”

In a statement, Gymnastics Australia said it would adopt all 12 recommendations for improvement contained in the report and “unreservedly apologizes to all athletes and family members who have experienced any form of abuse participating in the sport.”

More than 320,000 people are involved in gymnastics in Australia, with about three-quarters being female. The report included 47 interviews with 57 participants and 138 written submissions from current and former athletes and their families, staff, coaches officials, and administrators.

The call for the investigation followed the Dutch gymnastics federation’s decision to suspend its women’s training program to investigate allegations of intimidation and abuse, and other reviews in Britain, Japan and New Zealand.

In the United States, hundreds of women came forward against Larry Nassar, the osteopathic physician who in his 29 years as the USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor used medical treatment as a guise for molesting hundreds of young athletes. He was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in 2018.

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