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Abuse in gymnastics: The Whyte Review and lessons learned in sport


We previously reported in November 2020 on a number of British gymnasts who had waived their anonymity and disclosed publicly for the first time their experiences of physical, emotional and mental abuse by gymnastic coaches.

In response to these disclosures, UK Sport and Sport England co-commissioned Anne Whyte QC to undertake a thorough and impartial review into the allegations (‘the Whyte Review’). On 16 June 2022, the final report of the Whyte Review was published and can be viewed here: About the Whyte Review.

The Whyte Review


The relevant period of the review was between August 2008 and August 2020. Over 400 submissions were received in response to the ‘Call for Evidence’ in August 2020. Over 40% of those submissions described physically abusive behaviour towards gymnasts by their coaches. This behaviour included:

  • physical chastisement;
  • inappropriate training on injury;
  • the enforcement of excessive training hours and training loads leading to physical pain and exhaustion beyond acceptable limits;
  • overstretching to the point of distress as a form of flexibility management; and
  • withholding food, water and access to the toilet during training sessions.

Over 50% of submissions reported emotional abuse in the form of inappropriate verbal communications such as shouting, swearing, name-calling and use of belittling language. It also included gas-lighting, excessively controlling behaviour and supressing athletes’ opinions and emotions.

Further, 30 submissions reported sexual abuse such as grooming, sexual assault and sexualised communications. However, none of these behaviours were considered systemic in the sport in the way that physical and emotional abuse were.

Review findings

Among some of the key findings, the inquiry found gymnast well-being and welfare had not been at the centre of British Gymnastics’ (‘BG’) culture for much of the period of review and it has not, until very recently, featured as prominently as it ought to have done within the World Class Programme and within the development pathways used for talented gymnasts. The management of safeguarding concerns and complaints by BG and its clubs has not been consistently appropriate or rigorous, although it improved in a number of ways after 2016.

It found that many gymnasts, especially elite gymnasts, felt unable to raise complaints with appropriate authorities, including BG. Some parents, carers or guardians felt the same. This reticence, while a common feature of competitive sport, has been particularly pronounced in gymnastics.


A number of important recommendations were made and included:

  1. Reassess the level of responsibility delegated to volunteers in the sport and employ sufficient staff, especially at regional level, with appropriate professional expertise and training to support the safeguarding of gymnasts.
  2. Require its clubs to have a complaints policy for safeguarding concerns (and make this a clear requirement within the relevant policies and standards for clubs), operate a system for the neutral reporting of low-level concerns about adult conduct towards children and vulnerable adults, and make clear to clubs the circumstances in which they are required to report concerns to BG.
  3. Ensure that all welfare related complaints about its employed coaches are independently investigated and, where relevant, determined by a wholly independent panel.
  4. Appoint a Director of Education with overall responsibility for the education and training of coaches and Welfare Officers and for ensuring that education is adequately co-ordinated with BG Standards of Conduct and policy.
  5. Increase its direct contact with registered clubs to promote and monitor compliance with the information set out in the Gymnasts Handbook and provide policy updates.
  6. Appoint independent board members with relevant professional expertise in safeguarding and athlete welfare.


Notwithstanding the substantial recommendations made in the Whyte Review, it is understood there have already been some developments made by BG in regards to safeguarding and welfare. For example, in April 2022 UK Sport announced a new independent complaints service pilot. However, at the time of writing, this remains a pilot scheme and in light of these recommendations, it is thought that this will be a platform to provide access to an independent disclosure service and to a dedicated Welfare Officer from outside a gymnast's club.

Organisations engaged with young people will unfortunately always face the risk of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. However, with the implementation of safeguarding and welfare principles for the protection of participants this risk can be reduced. Other sporting organisations may also wish to reflect on the recommendations in the Whyte Review, in terms of their own sports, in order to consider what improvements they can make in their own organisations in regards to safeguarding and welfare, complaints handling, standards and education, and governance and oversight.


Patrick Williams

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