'Every gymnast must be able to train in a safe environment,' says Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

SINGAPORE – All gymnasts are entitled to train without fear of physical or psychological abuse, the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) has reiterated.

The GEF is an independent body set up by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) last year in the wake of the USA Gymnastics scandal, which saw its former team doctor Larry Nassar found guilty of sexually abusing the athletes under his care.

The GEF was set up to create a safer sporting environment and ensure that violations of the world body’s rules, policies and procedures, which include ethical breaches, are handled in an unbiased way.

In an email interview with The Straits Times, the GEF’s director Alex McLin said: “Whilst the magnitude of the USA Gymnastics scandal is absolutely staggering, every single case of abuse is terrible and unacceptable.

“We see testimonies coming from across the globe and no two situations are exactly alike. Every gymnast, regardless of the level, must be able to train in a safe environment, free of physical or psychological harassment or abuse.”

He added that one of the GEF’s key missions is to safeguard athletes against abuse as it seeks to “build trust and add value to all members of the gymnastics community by offering more accountability and support”. It has a hotline as well as an email address on its website where “instances or threats of non-accidental violence, harassment, abuse, and/or neglect may be reported”.

However, McLin stressed that the various national federations worldwide also have a responsibility to implement policies and procedures that protect their athletes from harassment and abuse. The GEF offers assistance to national federations that need help with this.

If a national federation does not comply with FIG regulations, the GEF may open disciplinary proceedings against it, which could result in sanctions being imposed.

Gymnastics’ leaders have been going all out to fix its toxic culture in recent years.

The many allegations of abuse prompted FIG president Morinari Watanabe to label the mentality of those coaches lording over their charges as an antiquated and dangerous way of coaching in an online address last month.

The FIG also held a virtual conference last month to discuss and eradicate toxic practices that have plagued the sport for years. The two-day virtual conference, which was attended by more than 800 representatives from about 80 federations worldwide, was organised with the aim of cultivating a safe training environment for gymnasts.

Athletes, including Olympians Fabian Hambuechen, Carolina Rodriguez and Danusia Francis, coaches and sports administrators were among those who were part of the interactive forum, where they discussed ways to better safeguard gymnasts’ welfare.

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