THIS summer may have been lacking in live action, but there has been a culture shift in sport, and particularly elite sport, over the past few months.

It is easy to look at world-class athletes and think they are living the life of Riley but recently, the curtain has been pulled back to reveal the ugly, destructive side of sport.

This summer has seen gymnastics in particular hit the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Netflix’s documentary film, “Athlete A” was released in June, and detailed the sexual abuse committed over decades by USA gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar.

At around the same time, British Gymnastics became embroiled in controversy when it was revealed former internationalist Amy Tinkler had submitted a complaint about allegations of mistreatment.

There have also been a series of other revelations, including dozens of Australia’s former top gymnasts speaking out over alleged mental and physical abuse, a South Korean triathlete taking her own life after submitting several complaints of abuse and one of Singapore’s top figure skaters speaking out about being severely abused.

These cases are, almost certainly, only the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, elite sport is a prime target for abuse.

The actions of Nassar, which have been well documented and for which the American has been jailed for up to 175 years, is the extreme end of the spectrum which will involve only a tiny percentage of athletes.

However, the way elite sport is now set up, there will be many others who will have their own personal stories of  some level of abuse.

Elite sport in Britain is amongst the best funded and most successful in the world. At the 2012 Olympics, GB finished third in the medal table, behind only the USA and China, while at the 2016 Olympics, GB climbed to second, leapfrogging China.

Hopes for Tokyo 2020, which has now been postponed until next summer, were again high as GB hoped to continue their impressive rise.

This, however, brings with it significant risks. The goal of collecting more silverware may be admirable, but it also brings with it the risk that abuse could be fostered, and then not addressed, when it is highlighted.

Tinkler’s case with British Gymnastics illustrates the problem perfectly. At the start of the 2000s, British gymnastics was almost nowhere on the global scene. However, from winning one Olympic bronze medal in 2008, British gymnasts went on to win four medals in 2012 before claiming seven in 2016, including two gold.

The improvement was clear to see, but Tinkler’s allegations of mental and emotional abuse, which have been backed up by a number of her fellow internationalists, suggest the athletes were often badly treated in this pursuit of success.

Gymnastics may be the sport which is under the spotlight but I am certain there will be similar stories across any number of sports in this country.

The pressure on every  Olympic sport in Britain to deliver medals is immense, with that expectation only growing with each Olympiad. This often encourages coaches to push their athletes harder and harder. And while there is, of course, a place and often a necessity to be tough on elite athletes, this can all too easily cross the line into bullying and even abuse.

British Cycling have been lauded across the globe for being one of the best training set-ups in the world and when you look at the return they get in terms of medals, it is hard to dispute this.

But there have been allegations, most notably from former World medallist Jess Varnish, that she was subject to bullying by coaches.

There have been far too many stories and allegations across sport in recent months to dismiss them as one-offs. It has to be accepted that elite sport is often not a healthy, safe place. The constant pursuit of success over everything else puts coaches under extreme pressure to develop athletes who can win silverware, and it becomes easy to see how a culture of bullying and harsh treatment becomes the norm.

The allegations of abuse and bullying have only had a spotlight shone upon them due to brave whistleblowers who have come forward but there will be countless others who will have suffered in silence. 

Speaking out almost always comes at a cost, which Maggie Nichols found out to her detriment; when she reported Nassar, she went from a sure-pick for the US Olympic team in 2016 to missing out on even an alternate spot. 

Many elite athletes feel in a similar predicament; when future selections are at stake, and in turn your entire career, becoming a whistleblower often feels like signing the death warrant on your career.

At present, elite sport, both in the UK and across the world, is not set up with the protection of athletes first and foremost. The greater the awareness of the potential for abuse and bullying within sport, the more chance there is of it being highlighted and stopped before it does too much damage.

But while success remains far above safety on the list of priorities, stories such as those of Tinkler, Varnish and the US gymnasts, are likely to continue to emerge.