THERE is little doubt that sport is, in the main, a force for good. But my goodness, when it goes bad, it goes really bad.

The report released a few days ago detailing the widespread abuse throughout British Gymnastics is shocking. But perhaps more depressingly, it is not particularly surprising.

The Whyte Review said issues of physical and emotional abuse were “systematic”, and some of the examples of the treatment of the athletes have been truly disgusting. The report heard from athletes who were made to train on broken bones, punished for needing the toilet, sat on by coaches, and subjected to excessive weight management.

These were not isolated cases; more than 400 submissions were collected and of those, more than 50 per cent reported emotional abuse, more than 40 per cent reported physically abusive behaviour by coaches and more than 25 per cent were subjected to excessive weight management.

These kind of revelations are not new. In recent years, we have become accustomed to the boundaries being pushed by coaches and management in the elite sporting arena. 

The stakes are so high with so much riding on the athletes’ success that it is hardly surprising that the line gets crossed. This does not make it any more acceptable to mistreat athletes, but it makes it more understandable.

But what makes these findings in the case of British Gymnastics quite so appalling is the fact that it was happening, in almost all cases, to children. During the period of the review, 2008 to 2020, more than 75 per cent of British Gymnastics members were under 12.

Primary school age children were being physically and mentally abused by adults in the pursuit of sporting success. Something has gone very wrong when it reaches this point.

We have seen in other sports how easily tough coaching can tip over the line. In many cases, the defence of “tough love” is used to justify this kind of behaviour. Everyone accepts that the elite sport environment is not for shrinking violets. If a coach doesn’t have the scope to push their athletes, they will not get anywhere.

But in what world has someone conflated tough coaching methods with things like withholding food and water, punishing toilet breaks, strapping athletes to bars and coaches using physical force to stretch young athletes into the splits. These are practices most of us would have associated with the old Soviet Union’s way of training gymnasts, not in modern-day Britain.

Yet, here we are.

I don’t believe any of these coaches went into their profession with the intention of mistreating their athletes, even less so when it is children they are working with. 

But as the pressure to achieve results increases, so too does the temptation to be that little bit more brutal.

Things do not get to the stage they reached in British Gymnastics overnight; rather, the levels of mistreatment very slowly increase over time, with the increments almost imperceptible.

And when you are dealing with children, expecting them to speak up against a well-respected coach is unrealistic. In any case, who do they speak to and who will believe them?

The response from the new British Gymnastics chief executive, Sarah Powell, has been encouraging. She has apologised unequivocally for the past treatment of athletes and vowed the system would change.

Only time will tell but certainly the heightened awareness of the propensity towards abusive behaviour will hopefully go some way in catching it if it begins to seep in once again.

The sad legacy this report may leave is a reluctance by parents to encourage their children into gymnastics in the future. Who could blame them for wanting to steer clear of a sport that has exercised such widespread abuse?

Still, the positives of sport, outweigh the negatives.

But no sport can be allowed to reach the depths British Gymnastics have ever again.


Isn’t it funny how something off the field of play can be what cements an athlete’s superstar status?

Rory McIlroy has long been one of the most popular golfers but his reaction to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series has been scathing, and has seen him position himself as the sport’s most prominent authority.

So many of McIlroy’s peers have taken the easy route by staying quiet when it has come to criticising the moral abomination that is the LIV Golf Series which is designed to help sportswash Saudi Arabia’s reputation.

McIlroy, however, has not held back in his criticism of the series, nor of the individuals who have chosen to join the venture. He may not have won a Major title for eight years but the 33-year-old has become golf’s conscience in recent months.

The Northern Irishman has ensured the criticism of those players who have decided to take cash over ethics has been sustained; without him speaking up, this would have been unlikely.

It’s not always the norm for sports stars, but he has done the right thing.

McIlroy taking the moral high ground has not only worked wonders for his own reputation, but also for that of golf’s.