Bidwell: The latest load of old rubbish out of Gymnastics New Zealand

9:10 am on 11 September 2021

Opinion - More hot air, more wasted money, more obfuscation and more salt into the wounds of broken athletes.

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File image Photo: 123RF

To what do I refer? Just the latest load of old rubbish out of Gymnastics New Zealand.

You might remember the very fine investigative journalism a year ago that uncovered some troubling practices at Gymnastics NZ. A culture of psychological and sexual abuse was alleged, along with score tampering and the expectation that athletes train and compete while injured.

That prompted an independent review - as is typical in these situations - which confirmed these allegations to be substantive.

And then what? Nothing. Just months and months of inaction that's finally led to - wait for it - another review.

Only, as Stuff reported this week, Gymnastics NZ has control over this newly-assembled panel and is under no obligation to act upon any of its findings.

Don't know about you, but I love a good mockumentary. I think of shows like The Games, starring the late John Clarke, or the brilliant Utopia, brought to you by the creative geniuses behind such gems as The Castle, The Dish and Frontline.

These are comedies about bureaucrats. About people who routinely commission expensive reports and never put them into action. About people who are masters at creating the illusion of care and compassion and people who use layers of red tape to continually obscure the truth.

I'm not a gymnast and nor do I know one, but I've heard from a couple in recent times. Athletes whose dismal treatment under Gymnastic NZ's watch prompted these panels to convene in the first place.

I also - as columnists are occasionally wont to - exaggerate for effect.

I wrote about this type of stuff a few weeks ago, lampooning governing bodies for their inaction on athlete welfare. I said they were hopeless and morally bankrupt and that athletes and their families would have to be the ones to drive any culture change in this country.

I drew a slightly long bow to illustrate just how inept and averse to scrutiny and change the people who "care" for our children actually are.

And now this from Gymnastics NZ? Honestly, you couldn't make it up.

At what point are we going to get fair dinkum about any of this stuff? At what point are we actually going to stop abusing vulnerable young athletes and actually care for them? At what point are we going to stop disrespecting the brave women who have come forward to share their harrowing stories?

This issue isn't confined to gymnastics. Far from it. We know that and yet we continue to allow governing bodies to convene groups and commission reports that never address the problems or the perpetrators and which dishonour the very people they're charged with looking after.

We've been down this particular road already. The previous recommendatory body gave Gymnastics 50 items to consider and rectify months ago.

The time in between has, apparently, been spent consulting various experts about how to treat young people properly.

Consider the expense. Consider all the meeting fees and the consultations, the lunches, the powerpoint presentations, the flights, the hotel rooms. To tell us what? That parents put their children in the care of coaches and administrators and that, actually, those children weren't cared for at all?

As I've written before, we know these things. We know that people abuse their positions of power and then cause further harm by rarely being held accountable.

It's hard not to feel that these investigations aren't actually into who did what to whom and how it was allowed to happen, but into how to acknowledge some fault without being held directly responsible.

We're forever told to "be kind" and fair enough too. Most of us are out of lockdown, but a huge number aren't.

Life has been challenging and we've no doubt all suffered moments that tested our morale.

But imagine being one of these gymnasts. Imagine sharing your story and your hurt and seeing that so little has come of it.

To me, that's profoundly unkind and hugely disappointing.

We have to do better. We have to acknowledge that harm has been caused and then actually do something to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Non-binding recommendations don't do that. More meetings and more discussions and more reports that create the illusion of care and responsibility definitely don't do that either.

As I've said before - and sadly have to say again - we have to be the ones to drive that change, because it doesn't appear as if governing bodies have the appetite to do it themselves.

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