State sorry for gymnast suffering
The WA government has apologised to gymnasts who suffered abuse and mistreatment at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS).
Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) has completed a review of WAIS that was commissioned after dozens of women came forward alleging they had been subject to systematic physical and emotional abuse by coaches and staff.
The allegations came from participants in the WAIS women's artistic gymnastics (WAG) program over a period of 28 years from 1988 to 2016.
The report revealed disturbing allegations of children subjected to a “culture of fear” including verbal and physical abuse, frequent and traumatising ‘skin fold testing’, weight shaming and training while injured.
WAIS chair Neil McLean has apologised for the abuse and harm the child athletes suffered.
WA Sport and Recreation Minister David Templeman has apologised on behalf of the state and acknowledged the courage required by the women who shared their experiences.
“Your contribution has exposed systemic issues and unacceptable conduct in the WAIS WAG Program, which had distressing, long-term consequences for many gymnast participants,” Mr Templeman said.
“While an apology cannot undo the actions of the past, it is an important starting point to making amends and rebuilding trust.
“The Western Australian government unreservedly apologises to all gymnasts who suffered as a result of participating in the WAIS program, and to families and carers of those who suffered.”
The minister said his department will undertake a “comprehensive governance and culture review of WAIS” and set up a Specialist Child Safeguarding Unit, which was one of the recommendations of the SIA review.
The new unit has been lauded as “a leading step in the protection of young athletes in Western Australia” by the Gymnast Alliance Australia (GAA).
The GAA says the abuse in the program was experienced by children as young as 5 years old, and is likely to have distressing, long-term consequences.
“It is with some relief that we accept the Western Australian government's apology,” GAA spokesperson and former Olympian Jen Smith said.
‘While it doesn't undo the actions of the past, the apology is a starting point for our healing process.
“Despite SIA's recommendation that WAIS engage in a restorative and reconciliatory process, WAIS has made no substantive effort to do so.
“Without the intervention and oversight of the department, we seriously doubt WAIS would engage in this process meaningfully and in good faith.”
The SIA review also called on WAIS to adopt a National Integrity Framework that includes an independent complaint handling process, and to ensure all sports programs involving children are child-focused and age appropriate.
It also recommended changes to embed athlete wellbeing into policies, procedures and practices in all sports programs.
WAIS has agreed to all the recommendations, and the state sports department will oversee and audit the sports body’s compliance and implementation of the recommendations.
It will also run a wholesale review of the governance and culture at WAIS.