Sport Integrity Australia has today released the findings of an Independent Review into the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Program (the Program).
The Review examined the culture of the Program between 1987 and 2016, included interviews and submissions from 92 participants including former athletes, parents, coaches and administrators, and more than 15,000 pages of documentation.
Sport Integrity Australia commenced the Review in 2021 at the request of WAIS and the Gymnast Alliance Australia (GAA). The Terms of Reference for the Review were developed and agreed between WAIS and GAA with a focus on understanding gymnasts’ experiences in the Program to identify whether there were any systemic issues and to make recommendations.
Sport Integrity Australia was formally appointed to conduct the independent Review through a Memorandum of Understanding with WAIS.
Based on the information and material collected during the Review, Sport Integrity Australia found it was reasonably likely that some gymnasts suffered abuse and/or harm while participating in the Program at WAIS.
This includes things such as verbal and physical abuse, unnecessary skinfold testing, weight-shaming, the expectation to train and compete with injuries, and extreme training loads.
The Review also found that the policies and procedures that governed the Program did not adequately protect some of the gymnasts.
In its findings, the Review made 4 recommendations:
- On the grounds that there was no effective complaint process for gymnasts to raise concerns, Sport Integrity Australia recommended that WAIS adopt the National Integrity Framework and the associated independent complaint handling process.
- On the basis that some of the practices were inappropriate for children, Sport Integrity Australia recommended that WAIS ensure that all sports programs involving children are child-focused and age appropriate.
- In recognition of the importance of athlete welfare and the risk of potential long-term harm to athletes, Sport Integrity Australia recommended that WAIS continue to embed athlete wellbeing into policies, procedures and practices in all sport programs.
- In recognition of the harm and/or abuse reasonably likely to have been suffered by some gymnasts, Sport Integrity Australia recommended that WAIS, in collaboration with the impacted gymnasts, engage in a restorative and reconciliatory process.
Sport Integrity Australia CEO David Sharpe acknowledged the bravery of the gymnasts and other participants who took part in the Review, and thanked them for coming forward.
“The courage exhibited by these gymnasts in telling their stories will result in meaningful change ensuring greater protection of future athletes,” Mr Sharpe said.
“Speaking up about abuse, harm, or any wrongdoing in sport can be difficult. But the athletes’ voices are now louder than ever and it is their voices that ensure we all better understand the issues.
“Sharing these experiences allows sporting bodies and government agencies like Sport Integrity Australia to develop processes, policies and education programs to significantly reduce the likelihood of them occurring in the future.”
Mr Sharpe said it was important to note that under the Terms of Reference, the Review was not established to be a complaint handling mechanism to take action against individuals, and instead was focused on understanding gymnasts’ experiences to identify systemic issues.
“Managing historical allegations of abuse in sport is inherently complex, due to the passing of time, the reliance on outdated policies, and jurisdiction issues that arise when respondents are no longer involved in sport.
“The Terms of Reference for this Review provided a safe way to hear and document participants’ experiences and learn from them, rather than a formal complaint handling process that would put gymnasts through investigations and hearings.”
Mr Sharpe also acknowledged the key role played in these processes by the Australian Institute of Sport Mental Health Referral Network, which provided support to participants in the Review.
Mr Sharpe said that many of the findings of the Review supported work already underway to prevent the same mistakes being made within other sporting organisations in future.
“This Review found that one of the main reasons these behaviours were able to occur was because there were no adequate independent oversight mechanisms, safeguarding policies or an avenue for complaints in place during this time period.
“Sport Integrity Australia’s focus now is on working with all sporting organisations, including WAIS, to ensure that their policies protect the athletes and participants of today and importantly, that complaints are handled independently.”