British Olympic chief Mark England has expressed his sadness over Amy Tinkler’s revelation that she quit the sport less than four years after winning a gymnastics bronze medal at Rio 2016 due to the escalating bullying and abuse scandal in the sport.
England, Team GB’s chef de mission, recalled Tinkler as a “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” 16-year-old who brought joy to a generation of young gymnasts when she unexpectedly claimed a podium place on the women’s floor just two days after Max Whitlock struck double gold at the same venue.
Such halcyon days have never felt so distant for the sport, with its domestic governing body pressured into relinquishing its commission of an independent review, and the British Athletes Commission set to announce a special ‘helpline’ in conjunction with the NSPCC to encourage further victims to come forward.
England, who was heavily involved in the development of the sport in a previous role with Glasgow City Council in the 1990s, said: “Amy was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coming into the village and then coming home three weeks later with a medal before her GCSE results.
“I’m saddened for people like Amy and I think one you have elite Olympians and athletes airing their views, it’s important because that gives the platform for others to come forward.
“What you’ve seen today from British Gymnastics is they acted quickly in terms of announcing a review and that has now been superseded and British Gymnastics will now support this independent review that is coming through the British Athletes Commission and UK Sport, and that’s right.
British Gymnastics announces it is stepping aside from the independent review to remove doubts. Read more in the full statement. https://t.co/DsUJwWcMny
— British Gymnastics (@BritGymnastics) July 16, 2020
“It’s appropriate that athletes have confidence in the review that is going to take place, and they have a safe haven to go to in terms of being able to express their views. I can absolutely categorically tell everyone that abuse has no place in sport at all.”
England confirmed that no coach currently under investigation by any governing body will be accredited as part of Team GB for the delayed Tokyo Olympics next year.
He added: “We are quite clear that anybody that is under investigation would not be part of Team GB. We wouldn’t expect anybody to be brought forward and nominated by governing bodies who were under investigation in any way, shape or form.”
British Gymnastics’ decision to step aside and enable UK Sport and Sport England to co-commission the independent review followed criticism, chiefly from the BAC, that it could be compromised by the governing body’s involvement.
British Gymnastics said in a statement: “At a board meeting on Tuesday night, British Gymnastics made the decision to step aside to allow UK Sport and Sport England to co-commission the independent review it first established following concerns raised by British gymnasts about mistreatment.
“British Gymnastics originally announced the commissioning of a QC led independent review last week. However, to remove any doubt of the review’s integrity or independence, British Gymnastics has asked that UK Sport and Sport England now co-commission it.”
An increasing number of gymnasts, including world championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie, have come forward in recent weeks to reveal a toxic culture within the sport.
British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen said: “It is vital the review is unequivocally independent with full resources to effectively deal with concerns raised by gymnasts.
“In the past week, the complexities have increased, and it is clear to retain the trust of the gymnastics community we have decided to recuse ourselves from any management of the review.
“Our priority is to learn the lessons and ensure the welfare of all those within gymnastics. By stepping aside, we hope the review can now proceed unimpeded.”
The escalating concerns over safeguarding in the sport both domestically and abroad reached the highest levels on Wednesday when International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach stated that abuse of any kind is “clearly against everything we stand for”.
In a joint statement, UK Sport and Sport England said they “welcome and support the decision of British Gymnastics to step aside from the review it announced last week and have agreed to co-commission a fully independent review into the serious concerns raised by gymnasts.”
The statement added: “We are working closely with key stakeholders, including the British Athletes Commission (BAC) and the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), to develop the terms of reference and the structure of the review to ensure it has credibility and the confidence of all of those who have had the courage to come forward.”