3 Aug 2020

Investigation launched into abuse claims at Auckland gymnastics club

7:09 pm on 3 August 2020

An Auckland gymnastics club is reeling over allegations of over-training and abusive coaching styles, sparking an investigation and calls for other victims to come forward.

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Photo: 123RF

An article in this weekend's New Zealand Herald outlined accusations of abuse, body shaming and overtraining at Auckland's North Harbour club.

Unnamed parents claimed girls at the club as young as eight were being fat-shamed, verbally abused and forced to train while injured.

North Harbour Gymnastics chief executive Mike Thompson said he was not aware of any direct allegations from the community and he did not know who exactly was making them, but the club was taking the claims seriously.

"The majority of the allegations that are being included in the article I was not aware of at all," he said.

"[It's] gut wrenching for the club."

He said an independent investigation into the allegations was taking place.

"If there are incidents like this occurring in the gym, we certainly need to make sure that we drill down to actually having a presence on the training floor to ensure that we're consistent."

Gymnastics New Zealand chief executive Tony Compier said the organisation was calling on gymnasts to confidentially report any abuse.

About 15 people had contacted the organisation so far. Of these, some were complaints while others were reports of historical abuse and recommendations for change.

Compier said the organisation sets out clear behavioural expectations in the codes and guidelines in its educational material.

"They are there, but they are an ever evolving continuum."

While the vast majority of athletes had a good experience, there was still work to do, he said.

"We need to double our efforts in continuing the work that we do with regards to education... [and] requirements and expectations around behaviour."

Former gymnast Belinda Moore, who represented New Zealand in the 1990s, called for coaches to be more closely monitored, with mandatory vetting.

Moore, who retired at 17, said most gymnasts hit their peak as children and there needed to be processes to protect youngsters.

"In gymnastics you're trying to squeeze a whole 30 year career into about eight years, and most of that time you will be a child."

Another former athlete, Dr Georgia Cervin, said abusive coaching had been an issue for the sport on a global level for at least 20 years.

"They're not things that we would consider acceptable if they were happening in other contexts like schools or other sports."

In a statement, Sports New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin urged gymnasts to report any concerns.

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