Australia urges gymnasts to come forward amid abuse allegations

Chloe Gilliland (nee Sims) is one of many who have spoken out. Image:News Corp Australia

MELBOURNE, July 23 (Reuters) – Australia’s gymnastics federation will set up “listening groups” for athletes to speak out and seek support amid a slew of allegations of physical and emotional abuse by coaches and staff.

The mistreatment of gymnasts has been in the spotlight since last month’s release of Netflix documentary “Athlete A”, which is based on a newspaper investigation into the abuse of American athletes that led to the jailing of team doctor Larry Nassar.

Former Australian gymnasts have since shared their accounts of being assaulted by coaches, fat-shamed and made to train and compete while injured.

Gymnastics Australia CEO Kitty Chiller applauded those who had come forward and said the federation had “zero tolerance” for abuse.

“We acknowledge that speaking up is difficult. I want you to know that we are here to listen. And we are here to act,” she said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“We are very keen to hear what our athlete community including our alumni, can share with us to enable us to continually improve.

“To this end we will be setting up ‘Listening Groups’ so we can hear from our community either individually or in groups – to discuss what support we have in place and how we can further improve.”

Five-times national champion Mary-Anne Monckton, who won two silver medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, said last week she suffered career-ending injuries after being “forced” to do things she was not physically ready or able to do.

“These negative experiences have left me with deep scars and will take years to heal,” the 25-year-old, now a coach, wrote on social media.

Paige James, the first Indigenous Australian to compete for the country in gymnastics, wrote of being encouraged to vomit up food on rest days and feeling “jealous of girls who were anorexic”.

“Still to this day I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is stand in my mirror and assess if I’m skinny enough,” she wrote.