British Gymnastics admits 'error' for not telling girl's parents about abuse claims
7 July 2020, 13:18
British Gymnastics has admitted it was wrong for not telling the parents of a child about allegations she was being physically and emotionally abused by her coach.
In 2012, witnesses told British Gymnastics that Catherine Lyons was allegedly hit by her coach hard enough to leave a hand print on her thigh which was spotted by another parent at the end of a training session.
Lyons, a former British and European champion gymnast, was 12 at the time of the alleged incident.
But the allegations were not reported to Lyons' parents and the pair didn't become aware of them until years later.
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Another child gymnast, who trained alongside Lyons, provided a statement to British Gymnastics in January 2012.
It read: "We were all doing conditioning together and Catherine wasn't doing it properly. [The coach] sent her out of the group and told Catherine to condition by herself.
"Catherine went into the back gym to do an arm set. She still wasn't doing it properly, at this point [the coach] stormed into the back gym and shouted at Catherine and got so angry that she slapped Catherine.
"When Catherine came out of the back gym she had a big red hand print on her thigh where [the coach] had slapped her so hard."
The coach was investigated and briefly suspended but was reinstated, and it was not until 2017 and after additional allegations had been made by Lyons and others that the coach was suspended again.
Lyons, who has now retired from the sport, claims she was dragged into a store cupboard by her coach as a form of punishment and had her calories restricted even when she was as young as 10.
Lyons, now 19, also claims she was beaten with a stick on one occasion.
In a statement, British Gymnastics accepted it did not follow protocol. It said: "You rightly identify an error in not notifying the gymnast's family in regard to the concerns raised in 2012 which would be usually part of our standard process. Any physical abuse is unacceptable.
"An initial investigation occurred in 2012. While it was deemed that suspension was not merited, she was asked to conduct training in regard to safeguarding best practice, which was completed.
"However, following further disclosure from the gymnast, a referral was made to the Local Authority Designated Officer."
Separately, witnesses from at least three centres of excellence for gymnastics training have told Sky News they were regularly "fat shamed" and subjected to verbal abuse by their coaches.
Scarlett Williams, who trained at Nottingham Gymnastics Academy, told Sky News that gymnasts would be so scared during sessions that they would have panic attacks.
"Our lunch boxes would be checked and if any 'packaged food' was in there of chocolate or sweets it would get thrown away," she said.
"The gymnast would then be targeted throughout the whole session as a consequence. Comments were made to gymnasts like, 'you can't land that skill from all the sweets you have been eating'.
"Gymnasts would be followed by their coaches on social media and if they were to post any type of unhealthy food they would be shouted at and embarrassed in front of the whole gymnastics team the next day in line up.
"This is emotional abuse, we would get weighed and would be praised for losing weight or told to watch what we ate if we had put any on."
In a statement, Nottingham Gymnastics Academy said: "The allegations that have been brought to our attention are deeply concerning. No one should ever be subjected to the kind of treatment you describe.
"British Gymnastics has confirmed to us that their Integrity Unit investigates all allegations of emotional abuse and bullying that are reported to them - as a result it would not be appropriate for us to discuss individual cases that may be under investigation.
"There was a significant change in the leadership of Notts Gymnastics Academy in early 2015. Athlete welfare is at the heart of everything we do today at NGA and ensuring that our gymnasts are happy and healthy is a central focus of our Academy values.
"We do however acknowledge that we can always be better and in addition to training our staff and supporting our in-house welfare team, we have invested in a number of initiatives and external partnerships to ensure we maintain a culture of continuous improvement with respect to athlete welfare."
(c) Sky Sports 2020: British Gymnastics admits 'error' for not telling girl's parents about abuse claims