A group of 17 former gymnasts including three olympians are to launch legal action against British Gymnastics for alleged "systemic physical and psychological abuse" by coaches targeting children as young as six.
Three olympians and several other former gymnasts are taking legal action against British Gymnastics, saying they have been the victims of decades of physical and psychological abuse by coaches.
The litany of allegations by 17 female claimants includes bullying, controlling behaviour and inappropriate use of physical force against athletes as young as 6 years old in a “winning at all costs” mentality.
Their notice told British Gymnastics that they are seeking financial compensation and an acknowledgement of negligence. The law firm representing the group of women — now ranging from 15 to 43 years old — expects the number of gymnasts to increase and possibly include men.
“This is a landmark moment in our campaign for justice,” claimant Claire Heafford, the campaign director of Gymnasts for Change, said in a statement. “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."
British athletes have come forward over the past year following allegations of abuse in gymnastics in the United States.
Larry Nassar, who served as USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor for years, used medical treatment as a guise for molesting hundreds of young athletes. He was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison in 2018.
On Thursday, former US Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert killed himself hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them.
British Gymnastics last year announced an independent review of claims of mistreatment, and Jane Allen retired as chief executive in December.
The governing body said on Friday that it received the “letter before action” but declined to respond.
“It would not be appropriate or fair to all parties for us to make any comment until we have had the opportunity for it to be fully considered,” British Gymnastics said in a statement.
More reports of abuse
Abuse also has been reported in Australia and New Zealand. This month, Gymnastics New Zealand formally apologized to victims. Last July, Gymnastics Australia asked a human rights group to investigate complaints.
“Action is also being prepared by gymnasts against BG’s Australian counterpart in that country," said the Hausfeld law firm, which is representing the British gymnasts.
Claimants include Olympians Hannah Whelan and Jennifer Pinches, according to the law firm, which said others wish to remain anonymous.
“For too long we have seen British Gymnastics prioritize podiums over people, which has led to untold damage to the lives of young people,” said Pinches, who competed at the 2012 London Olympics and at UCLA.
“It is a heart-breaking truth to face, knowing the level of abuse that we and so many others were subjected to," added Pinches, Gymnasts for Change’s community director. “This is just the beginning of the sweeping changes that we are demanding, and the justice that we will fight for.”
Hausfeld expects more gymnasts to join. No financial figures were specified but the law firm's announcement referenced USA Gymnastics' recent offer, filed in a bankruptcy plan, of $215 million for sexual abuse survivors to settle their claims.
The British action says the abuse took place when the women were between the ages of 6 and 23. Allegations include improper supervision and harmful coaching techniques leading to “multiple and long-lasting musculoskeletal injuries.”
"Inappropriate and baseless weight management techniques were widespread and very often deployed against young children, which is alleged to have caused eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and an unhealthy relationship with food, from which many of the claimants have been unable to recover,” the announcement said.
The alleged conduct has also resulted in the women experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.