British gymnasts to begin legal action against governing body over alleged abuse

London (AFP) –


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.

The athletes have served a letter before action on the sport's governing body in the UK.

The letter says athletes were aged between six and 23 at the time of the alleged abuses, which included "widespread inappropriate use of physical force" by coaches and enforcement of "baseless" weight-management techniques.

An independent review to look into complaints of mistreatment within the sport is currently under way.

Jennifer Pinches, who retired from international competition after helping Team GB reach the final at the 2012 London Olympics, said British Gymnastics had spent too long prioritising "podiums over people".

"It is a heart-breaking truth to face, knowing the level of abuse that we and so many others were subjected to," added Pinches, who is now the community director of the Gymnasts for Change group.

"This is just the beginning of the sweeping changes that we are demanding, and the justice that we will fight for."

Gymnasts for Change campaign director Claire Heafford said: "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.

"The hopes and dreams of countless children and young adults of competing as professional gymnasts have been destroyed and their love for the sport is now shrouded in fear and suffering."

The group is demanding a response from British Gymnastics, which includes a formal apology, compensation and improved coaching guidelines.