Former Australian gymnasts detailing mental and physical abuse have been applauded by the sport’s governing body.
Gymnastics Australia is promising action after a group of gymnasts, including Olympians and Commonwealth Games medal winners, told of the sport’s toxic culture.
Gymnasts have spoken of fat-shaming and other forms of physical and mental abuse during their careers.
“We acknowledge and applaud those who have spoken up – their courage and their voice,” Gymnastics Australia chief executive Kitty Chiller wrote in a public letter.
“We are here to help you and to support you and we genuinely want to hear about your experiences and your suggestions.
“We acknowledge that speaking up is difficult. I want you to know that we are here to listen. And we are here to act.”
Chiller encouraged more gymnasts to come forward while guaranteeing confidentiality.
“To this end we will be setting up ‘Listening Groups’ so we can hear from our community either individually or in groups, to discuss what support we have in place and how we can further improve,” she wrote.
The release of the Netflix documentary Athlete A, about abuse in the sport in America, prompted numerous Australian gymnasts to tell their stories.
On Facebook, 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Chloe Gillard detailed how she considered suicide after being shamed about her weight.
“I felt it was easier to end my own life, than to give in to what they wanted me to be,” she wrote.
Gillard said when she weighed 52 kilograms as a teenager, coaches frequently told her she was overweight.
“I would often make myself sick or starve myself out of fear of not making progress towards the ‘right’ weight, as determined by my coaches,” she wrote.
“According to my personal coaches and national head coach, I was ‘overweight’ and a ‘danger to my own body’.
“My personal coaches never called me fat but remarked that I was ‘too heavy’.”
Five-time national champion Mary-Anne Monckton said until now she and other gymnasts were afraid to speak out.
“I am scared to share my story,” she posted on Facebook.
“But at some point, someone has to stand up for the athletes.
“It has been made very clear, that they cannot do this for themselves. The abuse needs to stop or at least be stamped out of our sport.”
Monckton said she and others experienced “body shaming”.
“Anyone reading this and wondering why these things continue to happen and why gymnasts don’t speak up … it is because it will ultimately ‘hurt’ them more than anyone else involved,” she wrote.
“Imagine having everything you have ever worked for taken away from you. This is why you stay silent; out of fear.
“This culture has been normalised within our sport and has impacted many young gymnasts’ lives.
“These negative experiences have left me with deep scars and will take years to heal.”
Lifeline 13 11 14
beyondblue 1300 22 4636