(Montreal) They may appear imperturbable on a beam, their heads held high, but their performances belied a deep evil: Canadian gymnasts are decrying their sport’s “toxic culture,” physical and mental abuse, and are suing their national federation.
Posted at 10:14 am
Public insults, extreme weight control and food deprivation, excessive forced stretching, banned tears, inappropriate physical contact… The abuse of mind and body in gymnastics is coming to light in Canada.
In the UK, British gymnasts filed a similar lawsuit last year. Since the major American gymnastics sexual violence scandal that began in 2015, gymnasts around the world have spoken out about past physical and psychological violence.
In late March, a group of more than 70 gymnasts in Canada released an open letter asking the government for an independent investigation into the “toxic culture and abusive practices that persist in the gymnastics world in Canada.” Since then, more than 400 gymnasts, current and former, have signed it, but Ottawa’s response is yet to come.
In the Vancouver area, Amelia Cline dreamed of the Olympics. As a teenager, the gymnast trained 30 hours a week.
“The early years of my career were good but unfortunately overshadowed by the last three years, which have been extremely brutal,” the former gymnast, now 32, told AFP, citing many episodes of public humiliation, insults and abuse.
This former top athlete in the youth categories, along with others, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gymnastics Canada and provincial federations for having tolerated this climate of physical and psychological abuse in clubs for decades.
“The main purpose of the lawsuit is to hopefully hold these institutions accountable for this systemic abuse,” says Amelia Cline.
Contacted, Canadian federation was not immediately available.
“It seems logical to us that an independent investigation should take place and that these gymnasts also approve the members of the committee that would be formed to conduct this investigation,” said Micheline Calmy-Rey, president of the 2019-founded Gymnastics Ethics Foundation International Gymnastics Federation after the various scandals.
“Culture of Fear and Silence”
Amelia Cline says that by the age of 14 she was “constantly checked and questioned [son] Load “.
Almost 20 years after giving up gymnastics, the young woman still suffers from the “long-term consequences” of this abuse: difficulties in maintaining health and also chronic pain.
Like many others, the former gymnast laments a “culture of fear and silence” in clubs across the country. “You can’t question what the coaches are doing. They’re the experts and they take you to the Olympics,” she said with her red jacket tucked behind her back.
A former top gymnast remembers this toxic relationship well. “I was always scared. I loved sports, traveling and my teammates, but I was scared of my coaches,” she told AFP on condition of anonymity.
She also talks about how gymnasts are very isolated: In many clubs in Canada, parents are not allowed to come to training. And these very young children were asked never to tell about the methods, the training.
“What happens in the gym, stays in the gym,” coaches keep telling us, says Kim Shore, spokeswoman for Gymnast For Change Canada. For this former gymnast, mother of a young woman, who also denounces abuse, gymnastics is a “corrupt” environment where the “culture of domination” reigns.