16 Sep 2020

Call for Gymnastics review panel overhaul

5:15 pm on 16 September 2020

The independent panel setup to review the culture of Gymnastics New Zealand is ill equipped to do the job say former gymnasts.

Following a raft of allegations of verbal and physical abuse from current and former athletes Gymnastics New Zealand (GNZ) commissioned sports integrity expert David Howman, to carry out an independent review which began last month.

Howman added former Silver Ferns captain and qualified physiotherapist Dr Lesley Nicol and former international gymnast and current human behaviour and high performance coach Rachel Vickery to the review panel last week.

However, athletes advocate Roger Mortimer from the Athletes Federation said several former gymnasts who had contributed to review were uncomfortable with the process and did not believe the review went far enough.

World Cup Gymnastics, Hisense Arena, Melbourne, Australia, 24 February 2017.


"I think this has been set up as a traditional sports review and I think in the back of athletes' minds they realised that it didn't feel right," Mortimer said.

"We don't believe this should be treated as a straight forward traditional sports review, we believe this is a human rights and child protection issue and as such needs specialist expertise and attention and input."

Mortimer with the athletes have contacted the Human Rights Commission and leading international youth sports lawyers for their input, with a view to getting a subsequent or complementary review happening.

"In a nutshell we believe this is a really important piece of work and it really needs the specialist expertise that it deserves," he said.

"It's complicated and unfortunate the initial review was undertaken so quickly, without time for proper input from a variety of people. I think dialogue with Gymnastics New Zealand has been about slowing the process down and taking a step back and doing it properly and getting the right expertise in.

"I think it should be recognised that this is an evolving process for everybody and it is a learning curve I think for all parties involved."

Former gymnast Georgia Cervin

Former Commonwealth Games gymnast Georgia Cervin. Photo: Georgia Cervin

Former Commonwealth Games gymnast Georgia Cervin said the current review's terms of conditions and panel could not address the long-standing and wide-ranging issues it needed to.

"We've heard stories of deeply troubling behaviour that goes way beyond the sport context and it's been done to children and we think it's unlikely these stories which take place over 30 years and involve at lot of people can be collected an analysed in eight weeks.

"What we are talking about here is a child protection issue, so we need experts in that area, people who understand child abuse and this is particularly important because people don't always recognise [https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/sport/422938/many-gymnasts-won-t-know-they-ve-been-abused what's happening as abuse for a similar reason we'd like to see experts from social issues and sport and gymnastics included in the panel."

Cervin said the athletes were concious that the review is underway and did not want to compromise the work that had already been done.

"We're aware that a number of people have participated and we need to look after those people and what they've already contributed.

"So ideally what we are looking for is a reset of the current review and having discussions about how exisiting work can be incorporated into a more robust review."

Outgoing director-general of WADA David Howman.

Sports integrity expert David Howman. Photo: Photosport

Howman speaking with RNZ's Lately said the media's exposure of the abuse that gymnasts had suffered lead to his involvement with the review.

He said GNZ approached him to "generally to look at the culture and issues that are out there now through the media, through people having come forward and made complaints about some of the behaviour and abuse that they had received during their time as a gymnast."

"And that had a bit of a tidal wave effect, because there were many, many people who came forward and that required a response."

Howman said he did not write his own terms of reference for the review - rather GNZ told him the "general tenor of the review would be to look at the culture as a result of these allegations and issues and write a review looking at ways and means of addressing and redressing them in a practical fashion."

Complaints were not going to Howman directly but to a Sport New Zealand's independent complaints commission which links to a Wellington employment lawyer for triaging and appropriate resolution and some information was then passed on to Howman.

"We've got a lot of material, I've spoken with a lot of people and have been very encouraged with the positive attitude of people who are coming forward in the way they wish to help not only the health of the sport, the health and welfare of the athletes," Howman said.

Howman said the review would be finished in the week of 16 October and the report would be made public.

All participants were giving their information on a confidential basis and Howman said no athletes or institutions would be named and details of incidents that could lead to identification would not be released.

"We think we can look at it from a general theme or issues so we can look at all of them and come up with practical recommendations on how to counter them as we go forward."

Cervin said that "appropriate protections haven't been put in place to ensure the wellbeing and privacy of people participating in the review".

Gymsports New Zealand CEO Tony Compier.
The organisation has commissioned an independent report into the sport.

Gymnastics New Zealand chief executive Tony Compier. Photo: Photosport

The participation process needed to be better outlined and how those taking part would be protected and their information taken, stored and viewed and what happens to it after the review is over, Cervin said.

"We also know that these kinds of review processes can be a traumatic experience, so psychological and emotional support is paramount to ensuring people can actually participate in a safe way which doesn't compromise their wellbeing."

Gymnastics New Zealand chief executive Tony Compier gave RNZ a written statement.

"We have spoken to the Human Rights Commission and the discussion was constructive and confidential. We look forward to further discussion once the HRC has subsequently gone back to the Athletes Federation and athletes group."