A former gymnast hopes individual coaches are held accountable for their role in the abuse that has been rife in Australian gymnastics for decades, detailed in a troubling Australian Human Rights Commission report that was released on Monday.
Livia Giles - who took part in Australian Institute of Sport gymnastics camps during her career in Australia from age 11 to 19 - also said she hopes there was a deeper reckoning in the sport around what types of bodies are accepted at the elite level, and in coaching education standards.
“Gymnastics Australia, as a whole, needs to point to the individual coaches who are responsible for this,” Giles said.
“There should have been policies in place to never allow this to happen. The coaches should be checked and monitored closely but at the same time it is up to the individual coach.
“A lot of it wasn’t reported because we thought ‘this is how it is meant to be.’ ”
Giles said it was “really promising” and “amazing” that Gymnastics Australia had apologised for what happened.
“It is an aesthetic sport and I understand that,” Giles said.
“It is an unspoken rule that you don’t get very far unless you’re extremely lean or skinny and that has to change to be more inclusive of different body types, and focus on the skill development.
“I have seen the change happen in artistic gymnastics, but in rhythmic it is still predominantly … very, very skinny [athletes].
“Slowly I am seeing more competing well into their 20s, which is really nice.”
Giles hoped coaches would teach skill acquisition better (so, she said, they didn’t simply label athletes as “lazy” or out of shape when they could not do certain moves), listen more to medical professionals on training loads and injury prevention, and let dietitians lead nutrition.
Her comments came after Commonwealth Games medal-winning gymnast Mary Anne-Monckton said she did not understand how wrong some practices were until she retired.
“It wasn’t until I left the sport that I realised that certain things that happened and ways we were treated were not OK,” said Monckton, once an Australian team regular, now a coach.
“I just thought that is what we had to go through in order to be ‘successful’. That in itself shows how normalised the abusive culture is in gymnastics.”
Monckton and Giles were at the forefront of a group of Australian gymnasts who took to social media to detail their experiences in July last year, following the release of a Netflix documentary called Athlete A about disgraced American gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
“I am scared to share my story, but at some point, someone has to stand up for the athletes,” she said at the time. “The abuse [physical, mental and emotional] needs to stop, or at least be stamped out of our sport.”
On Monday, she said: “I did not speak out last year … to bring the sport down. I spoke out because, as a coach myself, I believe that there is a better way to treat athletes, better than they have been treated in the past.
“There is a more ethical way of coaching athletes to success without using outdated authoritarian coaching and having the ‘win at all costs’ mentality. This way has clearly been damaging to current and former athletes and their families. Hopefully this report helps to shape the future of the sport.”
Monckton said the contents of the report would not have come as a surprise to anyone in gymnastics. “But it is quite confronting to read that so many people experienced mistreatment in the sport I love,” she said.
Gymnastics Australia has said it will adopt all of the report’s 12 recommendations. Monckton said the most important was the one that would mandate an external inquiry of any reported wrongdoing.
“I firmly believe that a barrier to coaches, parents and athletes reporting abuse when they saw it or experienced it was that the process lacked independence,” she said. “People feared retribution, and the AHRC report recognised that too.
“It is encouraging to see the AHRC suggests that all matters regarding child abuse be investigated externally of the sport.
“I hope that this encourages all members of the gymnastics community to report when they think something is not right, and not be fearful of negative repercussions.”
The ASC Sexual Misconduct Helpline offers confidential support for former athletes on 1800 ASC HELP (1800 272 4357) or on email at email@example.com
The AIS Mental Health Referral Network can be reached on +61 2 6214 1130 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST), or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org