Gymnasts worldwide call for support from national governing bodies against systemic coaching abuse

Updated: Mar 7


(DINA LITOVSKY/ESPN)

By: Christina Flores-Chan


American Olympic gold medallist Aly Raisman is one of the many gymnasts calling on the sport’s national governing bodies to take action against the systemic coaching abuse of young athletes, in the wake of a plethora of international scandals in the sport coming to light.


Raisman’s call-to-action towards USA Gymnastics follows former U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics coach John Geddert’s suicide last Thursday, after he had been charged with 24 criminal offences involving human trafficking and abuse of athletes under his training.

“Monsters don’t thrive for decades without the help of people. We need to understand what happened, how this happened,” Raisman told CNN Tuesday morning, “We really need a fully independent investigation, and the scope of the investigation matters.”


During his time coaching, Geddert had been close with Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and convicted serial rapist and sex offender.


While some survivors say that the two worked in tandem, Geddert went mostly unscathed by the 2016 investigation against Nassar and his eventual conviction in 2018.


However, Rachael Denhollander, former gymnast and the first to speak up publicly on Nassar’s crimes, tweeted out on Thursday that Geddert’s abusive behaviour was never a secret, dating back as early as 2000.


The coaching abuse in gymnastics is not only an issue in America; it stems from roots in the system and reaches across borders as well.


17 former British gymnasts, three of whom competed at the Olympic level, announced their decision to take legal action against British Gymnastics last Friday, over decades of physical and psychological abuse by national coaches.


British Gymnastics said it had received the group’s “letter before action” earlier that week, outlining detailed claims of assault and misconduct committed by Team Great Britain’s coaches over the years. They declined to comment.


"This is not and has never been about a few bad apples, this is about decades of systemic abuse, encouraged and covered up by those at the top,” said Claire Heafford, the campaign director of Gymnasts for Change and one of the claimants, in a statement.


Last month, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the British Athletes Commission (BAC), set up a special hotline for gymnasts alleging coaching abuse. They received more than 220 calls and more than half resulted in a referral to the police or social services.


Abuse in competitive gymnastics also exists in other countries, with Gymnastics New Zealand apologizing to its victims in February, and Gymnastics Australia conducting an internal investigation last Summer, after complaints of abuse behaviour towards their athletes.

"For too long we have seen British Gymnastics prioritize podiums over people,” said Pinches, an Olympian and a claimant against British Gymnastics, "This is just the beginning of the sweeping changes that we are demanding and the justice that we will fight for."

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