It is the weasel words of denial, issued by the faceless communications machinery of a sport too cowardly to answer for itself, which make the scandal of British Gymnastics all the more despicable.
We received them two years ago, when gymnast Catherine Lyons described being hit with a stick, shut in a room and half-starved while on an overseas training camp as a 10-year-old. When Lisa Mason told of being asked to take prescription-only Voltarol pain-killers.
When Nile Wilson spoke of feeling ‘completely worthless’ and ‘like a piece of meat’.
It was a cut and paste exercise as British Gymnastics tried to shut all this down. ‘We condemn any behaviour which is harmful’ and ‘we continually strive’, ‘a culture which is positive’ and ‘our Integrity Unit investigates’.
Well, the propaganda machine certainly won’t cut it this time. The British Gymnastics chief executive who presided over this culture, Jane Allen, retired when she saw the writing on the wall and is now half way around the world in Australia.
But QC Anne Whyte’s report reveals something deeply unsettling, creepy and vile at the heart of gymnastics.
The British Gymnastics chief executive who presided over this culture, Jane Allen (pictured), retired when she saw the writing on the wall and is now half way around the world in Australia
Most of this scandal’s victims are children. Fully 75 per cent of British Gymnastics members are under the age of 12.
In plain sight, as well as in the coaching gyms, it has been evident for years that this sport does not promote wellbeing.
No sooner has a young woman in a leotard completed a performance at the big televised events, like last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, than the camera crews are up close to her, zoning in.
That, in itself, is utterly inappropriate for an age when we say we understand child protection.
Most of this scandal’s victims are children – 75 per cent of British Gymnastics members are under the age of 12
But what Whyte has uncovered from behind closed doors — the withholding of food, denying access to toilets during training, reducing girls to hiding cereal bars in their underwear, ordering them to step out from a line of children to be ridiculed — transcends that intrusion.
Caught in the midst of it all are the gymnasts’ parents, who describe in retrospect a sense of guilt and foolishness so very resonant of those whose sons were victims of football’s child sexual abuse scandal.
Theirs is a guilt born of not appreciating what was unfolding, having been convinced by brash, self-confident, charismatic coaches that the way their children were being treated was somehow normal — the price of sporting success.
One parent tells Whyte of feeling ‘hoodwinked’. Others were urged by children not to interfere and intervene.
This is all precisely what the parents of Barry Bennell’s victims said.
The guilt is compounded by the fact that this abuse, unlike football’s, was widely known about.
The brutal gymnastics coaching techniques were chronicled in journalist Joan Ryan’s 1995 book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, and echoed in the memoir Chalked Up, written by American gymnast Jennifer Sey in 2008.
The 2017 film Over the Limit chronicled the brutal, sub-human treatment of Russian gymnast Margarita Mamun. Don’t let us try lecturing the Russians on coaching conduct any time soon.
Our exceptionalism, of course, told us that none of this could happen in a civilised country like ours.
That the recruitment of a significant numbers of coaches from countries previously influenced or occupied by the former Soviet Union — which Whyte references — would have no adverse cultural consequences.
That the estimated 3,500 complaints British Gymnastics received between 2008 and 2020 could not point to a serious problem. When the so-called governing body now admits it didn’t have a handle on who was registering complaints and about what.
One parent told the Whyte Review of feeling ‘hoodwinked’ – others were urged by children not to interfere and intervene
On Thursday night, the organisation wheeled out a new bunch of executives to apologise most sincerely, to promise it would do better and that this would not happen again.
Just like UK Sport — which has bankrolled elite gymnastics — revealed to great acclaim in 2018 that it had undertaken a ‘culture health check’ and that all would be well from now on.
UK Sport should be demanding an extraordinary level of proof that gymnastics is safe before ploughing a penny more of tax-payers’ money into the sport. British Gymnastics, meanwhile, must somehow convince parents that their sport is a safe environment for children to be happy, confident and flourish in.
Many will conclude that an elite gymnastics team is the last place they want their young ones to be.